What’s next for Philippine sports?

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

There are reportedly at least three candidates for the position of chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission under the new administration. One is a former PSC chairman, another is a former basketball lead official, and the third was an official of another government sports agency. Each has his own strengths and weaknesses. Due diligence will reveal if any have broken the law or are ineligible to hold a government position. But there is also a fourth possibility.

The fourth option and -–ironically – a dark horse, is the outgoing Chairman of the PSC, Butch Ramirez. When you think about it, it’s logical. Ramirez is the only head of the commission who has had two tours of duty at the top post since it was created in 1990. He ran the agency solo for the first two months of the Duterte administration. Under his watch and in partnership with the Philippine Olympic Committee, the country reached unprecedented heights in the Olympic Games, Asian Games and SEA Games. He helped discover a teen-aged Hidilyn Diaz and started her on the path to the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal as well as an unprecedented medal haul.

Ramirez also set a moral example for officials and athletes alike. He chose to live in the athletes’ dorm at the PhilSports compound, and joined those who exercised at the track oval every morning. He refused to take credit even when it was due, famously declining a photo op with Diaz when she won her gold in Tokyo. He declined trips to big events, preferring to stay in the country and work. He formed important linkages with international sports agencies, launched the Philippine Sports Institute, and worked through the pandemic to provide athletes’ needs as soon as possible despite the pandemic. His good relationship with Congress also helped with the consistent delivery of the agency’s budgetary needs. Let’s also not forget his role in resolving other disputes, like the impasse between PATAFA and pole vaulter EJ Obiena. It would be painless and seamless to retain Ramirez.

Whoever is appointed the chair of the PSC, there is a lot to build on. Manuals and protocols are in place, because there will be no honeymoon period. You have to hit the ground running. Also, it traditionally takes a while to fill in vacancies in the commission as sport is, well, not a priority.

The World Games start in Alabama on July 7. It is unlikely that there will be a new PSC Board by then. The next big target is the Southeast Asian Games in 10 months, hosted by Cambodia for the first time. Will the country be able to sustain its strong run in the last two stagings of the event? After that, focus will be on the Paris Olympics in the summer of 2024. Given the internal problems of weightlifting and the uncertainty of who will organize the boxing tournament, are there other sports that can also score medals in the Games?

The next six years will also see the construction of the new national training center in Bataan, which had its groundbreaking two weeks ago. The prescribed P3.5 billion construction budget will not be sufficient, so more fund-raising has to be done. There is also the endless chore of getting national sports associations to liquidate their funds, run their houses properly and be fair to their athletes. The PSC finally started exercising its oversight function with the Duterte administration to better protect the public funds being used. So much has been done, but so much still remains. Ramirez and company have proven that it can be done better and well. That’s a tough act to follow.


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