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NSAs insist it’s nothing personal

Butch Ramirez

MANILA, Philippines — Representatives of 18 NSAs got together for five hours at the Manila Polo Club last Tuesday afternoon to discuss how to set things right in Philippine sports and agreed on a deadline of the end of November to pressure the POC, PSC and the NSAs themselves into enacting measures that would end the embarrassment of debacles like in the recent SEA Games.

“We’re not a rebel group,” said an NSA secretary-general who attended the meeting. “This isn’t about ousting Peping¡ (POC president Jose Cojuangco, Jr.) or any other elected POC officer. This is about self-examination. We want to identify the problem areas in Philippine sports and find solutions. The three entities involved are the PSC, POC and the NSAs. We’re drafting a manifesto that will be a call to action on issues.”

If no action is undertaken by the POC, it’s likely the group will call for a vote of no-confidence. A POC General Assembly meeting is scheduled tomorrow and there are no plans to boycott the gathering. But with the group of 18 making public its concern over issues left unattended by the POC, the meeting could be tumultuous. 

According to Philippine Sports Institute national training director Marc Velasco, the PSC will conduct one-on-one hearings with each NSA president and secretary-general on Oct. 23-27 to determine if government funding was used judiciously and to lay down future directions. PSC chairman Butch Ramirez has expressed disenchantment in the performance of the POC and several NSAs.

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A source said the group could’ve been more than 18 NSAs as the early indication was at least 25 would be counted in. Two previous organizational meetings were held before last Tuesday’s marathon session. Among those who attended were POC board member and Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion, former POC chairman Tom Carrasco, Charlie Ho of netball/handball, Karen Caballero of sepak takraw, Ed Picson of boxing, Richard Fernandez of shooting, Lani Velasco of swimming, Robert Bachmann of squash and Raymund Reyes of karate.

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“The POC Board is not united anymore,” said an NSA official. “How many members of the Board attended the send-off of our athletes to the SEA Games? A respected NSA officer was inched out of the POC chairmanship and someone else was asked not to run to accommodate another person who has not once attended a POC meeting. There is a rule that if you accumulate five absences in sequence, you’re out of the Board. I wonder how many members of the Board have failed to attend five POC meetings in a row? Are they still members of the Board?” 

During the meeting, survey forms were passed around for NSA representatives to fill up. The survey was meant to establish standards for performance evaluation. “In fairness, the POC rated high in logistical arrangements for international competitions and representation in conferences,” said an NSA secretary-general. “In the issue of setting term and age limits for POC elected officials, about 80 percent wanted it. Everyone agreed there is a need to amend the POC By-Laws, to remove advisers from actively participating in POC activities, to review all NSA conflicts, to reactivate all POC standing commissions, to urge the PSC to put up sports facilities, decent living quarters for athletes and provide medical care, to streamline the operations of the PSC’s NSA affairs and accounting and to systematize the procurement process of equipment and supplies.”

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Some NSA representatives said there should be closer coordination between the PSC and NSAs, particularly in scheduling competitions like the Philippine National Games. “We thought the PNG would be postponed to next year but we were just told that it’ll push through on Dec. 16 in Cebu,” said an NSA official. “We were also told that all national athletes are required to participate. We’re not sure if that’s a good idea because if you pit national athletes against grassroots development athletes, the competition will be one-sided.”

Picson, speaking for boxing, said he recalls witnessing a PNG competition years back in Bacolod where a virtual novice went up against Joan Tipon, an Asian Games gold medalist. “The kid was shaking in his boots,” said Picson. “He knew he had no chance of beating Tipon. In succeeding PNGs, we seeded our national athletes so grassroots athletes didn’t have to face them in the early stages. As expected, starting the semifinals, only the national athletes were left. I know there was a case in the PNG where a provincial volleyball team beat our national team but that’s not boxing. With the PSC announcement of the PNG on Dec. 16, that means we might not be able to give our athletes a holiday break. In boxing, we buy airline tickets ahead of time to save on costs and give our boxers a two-week break.”

The group of 18 may not be a rebel breakaway brigade but it’s at least a conscience bloc. The manifesto that it promised to submit within a few days could be either a firestarter or a dud. If the group fails to make inroads in paving the way for reform in the Philippine sports system, then it will die a natural death. But if the group lights a fire to ignite a reawakening in the POC, NSAs and even the PSC, then, it will spark a new hope for a better future in Philippine sports. The struggle won’t be easy. The POC is weighed down by men and women who seem to resist meaningful change. Fortunately, the PSC is led by a visionary, Ramirez, who has a selfless love of sports and the country. It remains to be seen if this effort by the group of 18 will snowball into a massive clamor for reform.

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