IT'S a new year, but instead of celebrating a new day for Philippine sports, we find ourselves worrying for the Philippine Olympic Committee which faces another controversy that can only get worse before it gets better.
A trial court declared two weeks ago that the POC’s November 2016 elections had been null and void.
It ruled that POC candidate Ricky Vargas, who ran for president, and Bambol Tolentino, who ran for chairman, had been denied due process when they were disqualified from seeking the posts by the POC election committee.
The court, which took more than a year to issue its decision, has ordered a new election that it has set for February 23.
As expected, POC president Peping Cojuangco Jr., who won that November election, said he will contest the court ruling.
This ensures another drawn-out battle at the POC: Cojuangco is not going to quit. He loves the POC — its perks, its financial rewards, the travels, the free dinners, and the power of being a very big man in Philippine sports. He has long lost all clout in politics, and the POC has become his life and his obsession.
Forget the fact that during the length of his term, which is 13 years and counting, Philippine sports has reached its most embarrassing levels of incompetency. See how the Philippine showing in the last three editions of the Southeast Asian Games has been the worst on record. And how, over the last eight years, it has failed miserably in its Asian Games campaigns.
The only bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape has been the silver medal for weightlifting at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the country’s first silver in 20 years. But, unfortunately, that cannot be credited to Cojuangco, who has not been seen, chroniclers of the sport will tell you, to support the weightlifting team.
Neither has the man been an inspiration, either to athletes or stakeholders. An aloof figure, Cojuangco has never learned to connect with common athletes, and because he has played favorites with NSAs, he has created divisions within the POC.
Even other sports bodies have become unhappy with Cojuangco. The Philippine Sports Commission, headed by Butch Ramirez, has already denied funding for a number of Cojuangco’s favorite NSAs and has actually called for an investigation of these associations. The same associations, not incidentally, have been the subject of complaints from their athletes. As a result, Ramirez has funneled funds directly to athletes — such as in tennis — to keep the money from being used for purposes other than what is intended.
Because of Cojuangco’s serial failures, the clamor for change in the POC leadership has been long and persistent. But the man has just played deaf. Or how else could he have gone on to seek a fourth four-year term? Which, thanks to the ruling of the election committee and the support of national sports association officials equally intent on holding on to their posts, Cojuangco and his team won.
All told, the last election could not have been a proper contest. Cojuangco and his candidate for chairman, Tom Carrasco, ran totally unopposed.
The election committee — whose members Cojuangco and his cronies had appointed — disqualified Vargas, boxing association president, and Tolentino, cycling association president. How? By the simple expedient of citing a dubious POC provision requiring association presidents to attend board meetings throughout the previous year to be in good standing. In effect, the committee, saying Vargas and Tolentino were absent so many number of times, took them out of the race.
The Pasig Regional Trial Court, in declaring the election null and void, said that the committee’s decision to disqualify the two national association presidents from running had been made “beyond the scope of its power and authority.”
As the new year begins, Cojuangco has a chance to change the dynamics of local sports and perhaps regain some of the trust he has lost. This can only happen if he heeds the court decision. Let’s have an election, Mr. Cojuangco — for your sake and for the sake of Philippine sports.