Year in Review 2018: The POC gets a makeover

Editor's note: the ESPN5.com team looks back at 2018's top stories in local sports with our Year in Review series.

FOR YEARS, there had been a clamor for a change in Philippine sports leadership. There were allegations of corruption, favoritism, lack of support and care for athletes, and even just plain indifference - a preference for sports officials to travel and be present at events, regardless of the athletes' performances. While there were threats of cases and exposure of wrongdoings, nothing concrete ever really surfaced. But, with repeated subpar performances in practically every discipline and a shortage in medal hauls in almost every major competition, the writing was clearly on the wall, and something had to give.

The appointment in 2016 of William "Butch" Ramirez as Chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission ushered in possible changes in the Philippine sports landscape as he and his group of Commissioners sought to unearth the ills and ailments plaguing local sports. Sports federations were directed to be more hands on and transparent and to directly identify what their particular sport needed in order to raise performance levels. Then, the next big step was taken.

After initially being prevented from challenging the then-incumbent leadership of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) in November 2017, a group led by Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines (ABAP) head Victorico "Ricky" Vargas successfully assumed in March 2018 the leadership of the POC, with Vargas as its President. The Vargas group had been allowed to run in a court-ordered election held in February 2018. After 13 years, the POC leadership had changed hands and with that, a large sector of the Philippine sporting community now placed its faith and trust in Vargas and his companions to lead the country's athletes into a brighter future.

Aside from Vargas, Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino of the Cycling Federation took the POC Chairmanship and, later, Patrick "Pato" Gregorio, also of the ABAP, was appointed Secretary-General and Karen Caballero of sepak takraw Deputy Secretary-General. The previous POC administration welcomed the conciliatory hand that Vargas, et al. extended, and the two groups vowed to work together for a seamless transition and towards a greater sporting age for the country.

The POC had to immediately start its work as the Philippines would be competing in the Asian Games from August to September and had been named the host country for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, which will be held from November 30 to December 11 2019 in several different venues across Luzon. Preparations for these games, the 30th such edition, are in full swing.

"Hopefully, because of the renewed trust in Philippine sports leadership, more contributors will come forth."

THERE WAS MUCH UNCERTAINTY as the Asian Games drew near earlier this year due to reports of resistance from different sport federations to the new POC leadership, but it appears that the parties concerned were able to iron matters out just in time and Filipino athletes performed admirably well overall at the quadrennial meet known as the Olympics of Asia. Improving on its 15-medal tally (one gold, three silvers, 11 bronzes) in Incheon, South Korea four years ago, the Philippine contingent was able to garner 21 medals (four golds, two silvers, 15 bronzes) in Jakarta-Palembang. Philippine lady athletes won all four gold medals for the country. While certainly critics will lament that so much more could have been done, the improvement in the number of medalists speaks for itself and showcases the tremendous will of the Filipino athlete to fight for flag and country.

Together with the assumption to office of the new POC leadership came pledges from different sectors to fully support the sporting programs of the country, prioritizing the care and training of the athletes themselves. Manuel V. Pangilinan, Chairman Emeritus of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, immediately turned over the sum of P20,000,000 to the POC. As the year went on, more commitments came in as San Miguel Corporation contributed P20,000,000 of its own, as did the MVP Sports Foundation, while the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) turned over P6,000,000 to the POC, with each of its 12 member teams shelling out half a million each. All this funding is aimed at aiding the athletes and the different national sports associations, particularly for day-to-day expenses and training.

As one of its commitments to Filipino athletes moving forward, the POC leadership promised to make good on its commitments to reward athletes who bring glory to the country with gold-medal performances in different competitions. During halftime of a PBA game in September 2018, the medalists from the Asian Games were given their cash rewards in the amounts of P2,000,000 for each gold, P500,000 for each silver, and P300,000 for each bronze.

Hopefully, because of the renewed trust in the sports leadership of the Philippines, more contributors will come forth in support of the different sports associations and individual athletes, working hand-in-hand with the POC and PSC, in order to spearhead programs that will benefit all the stakeholders. More cooperation and involvement is needed, especially looking ahead towards the 2019 SEA Games hosting.

WHILE THERE WAS INITIAL HESITATION to host the SEA Games due to other national concerns, as earlier stated, preparations are now in full swing. There will be more than 500 events in 56 different sports, and with venues spread throughout Luzon, much commitment, coordination, and funding is required. With the slogan for the SEA Games being, "We win as one", there is really no choice but for the Philippine sports community to solidify itself for the coming hosting, perplexing and uninspiring logo notwithstanding.

The year 2018 has seen its share of ups and downs in Philippine sports. While there were several disappointments, including Gilas Pilipinas' FIBA World Cup 2019 stint being in peril, there were breakthroughs and triumphs as well. Meggie Ochoa bagged a world jiu-jitsu gold, while gymnast Carlos Yulo won a bronze in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

The change in Philippine sports leadership initially produced uncertainty and doubt, but the actions taken in recent months point upwards. The seeds were planted in 2018. Surely, the process will not take just a few steps but will entail an extended journey towards real change. It will take the full support and cooperation of all the sports associations and federations and their respective leaders, with the genuine desire to develop the athletes and bring out the best from them. The current leadership of the POC is a fresh start. The improved results should come, hopefully sooner than later.