The swimming row has affected the Philippines’ performance in international competitions as the country has not captured a gold medal in swimming in the SEA Games since 2009.
Ricky Vargas calls for inclusive swim tryouts
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — POC president Ricky Vargas said yesterday he’s all for inclusive tryouts for the national swimming team under the supervision of the Philippine Swimming, Inc. (PSI), the duly-recognized NSA for the sport and called on PSI president Lani Velasco to reach out to Filipino hopefuls, regardless of affiliation, in the spirit of Olympic solidarity.

Velasco and a rival group made up of former national swimmers Ral Rosario, Eric Buhain and Akiko Thomson are at odds as to whom should attend the tryouts. Another group led by former Sen. Nikki Coseteng and Susan Papa boasts of swimmers who are worthy candidates for the national team but disenfranchised by PSI for belonging to an unaffiliated organization.

The swimming row has affected the Philippines’ performance in international competitions as the country has not captured a gold medal in swimming in the SEA Games since 2009, meaning a drought of four straight editions. Last year, Velasco was elected PSI president to succeed Mark Joseph who stepped down. But Rosario’s group has questioned the legitimacy of Velasco’s election. In 2017, Rosario was voted PSI president but the election was not upheld by the POC.

Because Velasco enjoys the support of both the international and Asian swimming federations, the POC has given its recognition to her. Velasco said she is authorized to conduct tryouts and select swimmers of the national team as PSI president. Rosario said if the tryouts are exclusive to swimmers in organizations or clubs affiliated to PSI, he will study options for deprived athletes to be given the chance to compete for slots on the national team.

Vargas said it would be a “welcome and encouraging development” if tryouts are open and inclusive under PSI’s supervision. “Let’s discover the best athletes to represent the country,” he said. “Let the athletes compete.” Vargas said it’s time for PSI to open the door for all Filipino swimmers, regardless of club or organizational affiliation, to prove themselves deserving to join the national team.

“I’m hoping Lani is open to the idea,” said Vargas. “Let PSI reach out to all the swimmers and I’ll take care of resolving the divisiveness that’s setting back the sport. Maybe, in three months, this will be sorted out for the good of swimming. We’re doing this for the athletes.”

Rosario said his group is called Philippine Swimming for unity. “We will work with the POC and if Lani opens the tryouts, then the POC could oversee so an even playing field is guaranteed,” he said. “If Lani doesn’t open tryouts for non-members, then we need to be able to open an option for them to have the opportunity to make the national team. I hope the POC and PSC understand what we’re trying to do and help in holding open tryouts.”

Rosario said if PSI excludes non-affiliated swimmers, his group will hold its own tryouts. “If open tryouts aren’t held, we’ll have tryouts and the times will speak for who should be on the national team,” he said. “All we want is a fair, open playing field.”

Rosario said his group hasn’t announced tryouts. “No dates yet,” he said. “Ours will be open to any swimmer who wants to give it a try to represent our country. Susan’s group is only one of many that have not been given the opportunity to tryout. We also need financial support to push our program forward.”

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