What’s in store for Philippine sports in 2021?

Published January 29, 2021, 9:00 PM

by Carlo Anolin

Photos by Mark Balmores

FIRST GOLD FOR PENCAK SILAT Edmar Tacuel of the Philippines performs during the Pencak SIlat Male Tunggal category in the 30th South East Asian Games in Subic Exhibit and Convention Center, Subic Bay, Zambales

The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), in all its capacity, adapted to the changing times when the coronavirus pandemic put the sporting world at a standstill last year. The Tokyo Olympics is just one of the big events that fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As organizers rally to stage the multi-million-dollar showpiece on a new date set in July, the postponement of the Games proved costly to the dreams of Olympic hopefuls who are all eager to earn a ticket to the Japanese capital. And that includes the Philippine national team.

Slowly but surely, the PSC took the necessary steps to resume its services to the Filipino athletes—from sustaining their allowance, keeping their mindset intact, and providing online training, among others. PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez admitted that it wasn’t an easy task, since the pandemic simultaneously affected the organization’s dilemmas in 2020.

SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENTS Jasmine Alkhaldi of Team Philippines, swims during the Women’s 100 meter freestyle at the Aquatics Center of the New Clark City during the 30th South East Asian Games in Tarlac

The sports agency was tested with the discovery of the payroll fraud scheme and the shortage in remittance from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) through the national sports development fund (NSDF).

The Department of Justice recently recommended the PSC and the National Bureau of Investigation to file several counts of theft and fraud to three former PSC employees involved in a payroll padding scheme.
When PAGCOR remittances plummeted as gaming activities were put to a halt, monthly stipends of the national athletes were significantly reduced. But thanks to the Bayanihan Act 2, the government had allotted a P180 million budget for affected members and coaches in response to their needs.

Slowly but surely, the PSC took the necessary steps to resume its services to the Filipino athletes—from sustaining their allowance, keeping their mindset intact, and providing online training, among others.

“These are the problems we have, but just like anyone, any human being, we try to cope up with the times,” Ramirez told the Manila Bulletin. “We reboot everything and we adapt to new things. You cannot live in the past, you have to be alert to be able to survive today and the future.” For the PSC chief, being mindful of the news is one of the many traits he had embraced as a government leader. As Covid-19 cases in the country surge, keeping watch of the bulletin from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Philippines’ very own Department of Health became a must. The implementation of a comprehensive online training program accompanied with health protocols followed suit.

SPORT SHOW Delegates from Brunei Darussalam make their entrance during the opening ceremony of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan on November 30, 2019 (Toto Lozano/Presidential photo)

The new normal forced the PSC, the Philippine Olympic Committee, and the national sports associations (NSA) to resort to virtual training. Other disciplines, however, weren’t able to maximize their sessions due to lack of venue and equipment. Three PSC venues, namely the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila and the PhilSports Arena in Pasig, served as quarantine facilities for Covid-19 victims.
Featherweight boxing bet Nesthy Petecio, seeking to book a ticket to the Tokyo Games, is one of the few Olympic aspirants who experienced different hardships last year.

“The pandemic has really affected us physically and mentally,” said the 28-year-old boxer hailing from Davao del Sur. “Para sa’kin po, kahit papano nakakatulong din naman po [ang online training pero hindi po talaga sapat. Iba po talaga yung nabubuhos mo, nagagawa mo nang tuloy-tuloy ‘yung training. Nakikita at nababantayan ka ng mga coaches mo. Naco-correct nila ‘yung mga mali at kulang mo (For me, online training can help but it is not enough. It’s still better for us when we can exert effort, and train continuously. Your coach can see and check what your shortcomings are).
This 2021, the PSC had vowed to give an extra amount of support to the Philippine national team as the Olympics is set to kick off in July, plus the 2021 Southeast Asian Games.

DUEL-ITY OF MEN Philippines’ Christian Concepcion (left) goes up against Vietnam’s Vu Thanh An in Fencing Individual Sabre finals at World Trade Center, December 3, 2019

Even as he admits the shortcomings for the grassroots program, the 70-year-old Ramirez reiterated his commitment, saying he aims to get things back in order with the cancellation of events like the Philippine National Games and Batang Pinoy. “Meron akong accountability sa empleyado ng sports at sa aming grassroots [program], may pananagutan akong pagseserbisyo sa mga atleta ng Pilipinas (I have accountability to the employees of sports and the grassports programs, and I have to serve the athletes of the Philippines),” added Ramirez, who’s been holed up in his satellite office at PhilSports Arena to provide round-the-clock service to the PSC.

Tough times are ahead for sure, said Ramirez, accepting that the uncertainty still lurks despite the development and scheduled distribution of vaccine in the Philippines. The Covid-19 aftermath, for obvious reasons, is something to look out for and the PSC must be ready for it.