Worried about Tokyo

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2020 - 12:00am

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to open on July 23, 2021, or less than 10 months away. Yet, this close to the world’s largest sporting event, there is still so much uncertainty. Japan closed itself off from 160 countries when the COVID-19 outbreak first occurred. At least 11,000 athletes are expected to flood into its capital and environs when the Games finally begin. A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the host country’s moral dilemma about allow­ing American athletes and officials into its territory. US athletes will make up roughly five percent of all participants, so the Olympics can’t be held without them. Yet, their country consistently sets record highs in infected and dead from coronavirus. Five days ago, Tokyo Olympics organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto suggested a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming par­ticipating athletes. But how do you let them in while mitigating the risk of spreading infection?

Other countries have hit their stride in preparing for Tokyo. For the last two and a half months, Brazil­ian swimmers, judokas, boxers and gymnasts have been training at the Rio Maior Sports Center to catch up with rivals who resumed practice even earlier. Rio Maior is a small town in Portugal outside of Lisbon. Team Brazil underwent testing before leaving home and again upon arrival in Portugal to be able to start training one year before Tokyo. Judokas from other countries like Canada also began training in bubbles in July, giving them two months before resumption of competitions under the International Judo Federation. British rowers have been training in relative isolation in Breisach am Rhein in Germany since that time, also.

However, the Philippines is in a dif­ferent situation. Only a handful of in­dividual Filipino athletes have already qualified for the Olympics. The rest have been in a holding pattern since COVID-19 put the world on pause. All the rest of the sports have shut down. Athletes have been gaining weight and losing their edge, deprived of places to train. There is the further problem of depletion of funds of the Philippine Sports Commission, which shelled out billions of pesos to boost the overpriced 2019 Southeast Asian Games (which have not yet been audited). In addi­tion, PAGCOR, the agency’s main source of funds, has been one of those hit hardest by prevailing quar­antines. No gaming means no revenues. No revenues means no remittances to the PSC. Bear in mind, too, that national teams are normally disbanded every

December. Everything restarts in January. But since there have been no competitions, what will be the basis for national sports associations’ recommenda­tions to fill in rosters?

And even before that, the Philippine Olympic Committee is mandated to have elections, another required - but unnecessary – reset. Regular elections are meant to take place after the normal schedule of the Olympic Games. The POC constitution has no provisions for extraordinary circumstances like these. It would take a complicated process to change the charter before the elections could be rescheduled. The STAR has gathered that the camps of incumbent POC president Bambol Tolentino and the opposition have names of each other’s candidates that they will have disqualified. But that is a story for another day.

After the Olympics close on Aug. 8 next year, the country will look at an even more massive effort for the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam three and a half months later. But as of now, those who haven’t qualified for the Olympics are at a standstill. Every­one starts from zero in January. And given budgetary problems, the SEA Games will probably feature only token participation in some sports. There are more urgent matters to spend money on

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