POC: 'A lot of changes and surprises' for Philippine sports in 2021

Now that the elections are over, the Philippine Olympic Committee's new leadership aims to be united for the Filipino athletes' sake.

Re-elected POC president Abraham Tolentino assured on Friday that there are a lot of "surprises" in store for the Filipino athletes next year.

"We have to focus on the athletes now. We have a lot of challenges this next year. A lot of big competitions outside [the country], especially the Tokyo [Olympics]. This might be our first-ever gold," said Tolentino. "But with the help of this new team, starting January 1, definitely there will be a lot of changes and surprises."

Next year is shaping up to become one of the biggest years in Philippine sports -- the country has a strong chance to nab its first gold since joining the Olympic Games in 1924.

At least four hopefuls, namely pole vaulter EJ Obiena, boxers Eumir Felix Marcial and Irish Magno, and gymnast Caloy Yulo, are strong bets to bring home the elusive gold. There are also other athletes such as Hidilyn Diaz, Eric Cray, and Kristina Knott waiting for direct qualification to the Games.

The biennial Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is also set to be held in Vietnam late next year, with the Philippines looking to grab its second straight overall title. In the 2019 edition, the country had its most successful outing yet, amassing 149 golds, 117 silvers, and 121 bronze medals in front of an adoring home crowd. One of the sports that made a mark in 2019 was gymnastics as Carlos Yulo claimed gold in the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships and the SEA Games.

Gymnastics chief Cynthia Carrion shared that Yulo is doing well in his training, while his other national teammates are raring to cop at least 10 of the possible 14 golds at the 31st SEA Games.

Tolentino's ticket almost swept the 10 positions up for grabs, winning eight of them. Despite coming from the losing ticket of Atty. Clint Aranas, Atty. Charlie Ho assures that he will cooperate with the new administration, a team that will govern Philippine sports for the next four years.

"We have to set an example to our coaches and our athletes. And we also have to show and be good examples to our athletes and all NSA members. So, I will be here to remind everyone that we have a responsibility to the people and to the country," said Ho, who is the representative of netball.

One of the first initiatives the new administration will be tackling is the amendments to the POC charter, which the International Olympic Committee repeatedly told them as antiquated. Another pressing issue is to restart training for the country's athletes, many of which had been stopped since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

"On top of the programs that they have already laid out for the athletes, I think it is important to work closely with the PSC and IATF to actually resume training for all the national teams, not just for the Olympic hopefuls because we all have competitions to prepare for the next year," said executive board member Pearl Managuelod of Muay Thai.

Resumption of training is not only the paramount thing that the athletes need but also funding as well. Tolentino revealed that he lobbied some P900 million to be earmarked for the training and allowances of the athletes set to compete in international competitions such as the Olympic Games, SEA Games, and the Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games.

With how the country's sporting scene blossomed in 2019, the Cavite solon believes things will only get better under his leadership.

"With the momentum from the last SEA Games, definitely, we're on the right track so we have to move on to the right momentum, while our athlete's spirits are high," he mentioned.

Aside from 2021, another big year for Philippine sports will be the country's hosting of the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which will be organized by newly-elected first vice president Al Panlilio of basketball.

"I mean, of course, with the help of the POC and being close to PSC, hopefully being a POC member or first vice-president, we would need a lot of help from government to make that hosting very successful," explained Panlilio.

"And the marching order of course of our chairman-emeritus [Manny V. Pangilinan] is to make it a really successful World Cup, right? And you know, China did a good job hosting the last one, technically excellent, but you could see that the fans lacked passion. And that's what we bring. So we want this experience to be very, very different from China."