Boxing chief Ricky Vargas (right) flashes the thumbs-up after winning the presidency in the Philippine Olympic Committee elections over long-time POC head Jose Cojuangco Jr. at Wack Wack as POC Comelec head Frank Elizalde looks on. Joey Mendoza

Ricky Vargas unseats Jose Cojuangco Jr. as POC chief
Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Boxing chief Ricky Vargas was elected president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) yesterday, beating incumbent Jose Cojuangco Jr. to underscore the clamor for change and reform in the leadership of Philippine sports.

Vargas pulled off a decisive victory over the long-time POC head with members of the General Assembly voting 24-15 in a re-election ordered by the court following tumultuous polls sparked by questions on eligibility in 2016 that reached the International Olympic Committee.

“I feel good. At least, it’s done,” said Vargas, a grandson of the late Jorge Vargas, first president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, predecessor of the POC, and a permanent member of the IOC.

“It’s time to work,” he said.

In the battle for POC chairman, Rep. Abraham Tolentino of cycling defeated Ting Ledesma of table tennis, 23-15. The winners will occupy their posts until 2020.

Vargas, who turns 66 today, spread his arms and raised them in the air as his victory was announced inside the West Side Grill of the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong.

Thus ended the 12-year tenure of Cojuangco, 83, under whose watch the Philippines won its first women’s Olympic silver medal in Hidilyn Diaz in the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 but also saw the nation plummet to sixth overall in low-level regional sports like the Southeast Asian Games.

Later on, Vargas and Tolentino were proclaimed winners by election committee head Frank Elizalde on stage. The two looked magnanimous in victory, flashing the peace sign.

All 43 voting members of the POC General Assembly, plus the three members of the election committee, were in the room. The casting of votes took less than 30 minutes.

It took each member less than 30 seconds to cast his or her vote in two tiny cubicles. A couple of NSAs (national sports associations) were not allowed to vote while one abstained.

Cojuangco, of equestrian, took the early lead in the count, 6-3. Then Vargas took the upper hand at 8-7 and never looked back. Slowly, it turned into a one-sided battle, with the boxing chief padding his lead to 20-12.

When Vargas’ number of votes reached 22, the minimum number required to win the election, his supporters howled inside and outside the room, where the non-voters stayed. Then one by one, Vargas’ supporters came up to him to shake his hand as the counting concluded.

The celebration, mild and quiet, had begun.

Cojuangco silently sat on his chair, putting up a brave front with a half smile, joined at the table by his daughter, International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Mikee Cojuangco, and a handful of his most loyal supporters.

It was the end of his reign at the POC, which began in 2004, followed by re-election in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

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