Owing to several factors that derailed the Filipino athletes’ training, the Philippines is setting a modest goal when it goes to battle in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam in May.
Since topping the SEA Games as host in 2019, the athletes have not had a normal training condition due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Worse, sources of funds for the Philippine Sports Commission intended for the national athletes were affected by the lockdowns implemented by the government to combat the pandemic.
Most NSAs turned to private donors to trump up their training in a bubble setup.
“My boys are back to the grind. And they mean business. Sabi ko gold, minimum silver. If I can manifest for other sports and athletes, more so to my own sports children.”
The Samahang Kickboxing ng Pilipinas is also spending for the training of its 11 athletes in La Trinidad, Benguet, hoping that it would deliver good results so it can reimburse some expense from the PSC.
Backed by some corporate sponsors, the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) will send its national men’s and women’s training pool abroad for training.
The PNVF has named 40 athletes for volleyball and 16 players for beach volleyball to the national pool. There are 20 athletes each for the men and women divisions for volleyball and eight apiece also for both genders for beach volleyball.
“It’s unfortunate that our promising young players from the collegiate leagues couldn’t join the pool, and the SEA Games for that matter, because their respective leagues are resuming their competitions before the Hanoi Games,” said Suzara, referring to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The PNVF president Ramon Suzara has envisioned a national team composed of young and promising players but although circumstances surrounding the collegiate leagues that were shuttered for two years stalled the federation’s goal.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Rep. Abraham Bambol Tolentino has so far summed 656 athletes will be competing in 39 of the 44 sports programmed by Vietnam for its only second hosting of the Games since 2003.
“Comparing the numbers when we hosted the Games in 2019, we’ll have a delegation that’s slashed almost in half from three years ago,” Tolentino said. “And a quick look at the numbers show we’ll be hard-pressed to repeat as overall champions.”
There were 1,115 Filipino athletes in 2019—an automatic privilege that host countries have—and they won 149 gold, 117 silver, and 121 bronze medals for a guaranteed overall title.
“But we’ll have a fighting team in Vietnam, setting aside the difficulties of training and competing or training overseas because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tolentino said.
Filipino athletes will be competing in diving, swimming, finswimming, archery, athletics, badminton, 3×3 and 5×5 basketball, billiards and snooker, bodybuilding, bowling, boxing, canoe-kayak, chess, cycling, dancesport, esports, fencing, football, golf, gymnastics (artistic, aerobic and rhythmic), beach handball, judo, jiujitsu, karate, kickboxing, kurash, muaythai, pencak silat, rowing, sepak takraw, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, triathlon/duathlon, volleyball, beach volleyball, vovinam, weightlifting, wrestling and wushu.
With barely two months to go, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum (RMC) and Ninoy Aquino Stadium (NAS) inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila, which were used as quarantine and Covid-19 testing areas since April 2020, are being readied for the training of some athletes.
The country’s two landmark sports facilities, according to SEA Games chef-de-mission Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Commissioner Ramon Fernandez, will be extra two venues where the national athletes can train and for the national sports agency to save funds for the rental of training venues.
Aside from the NAS and the RMSC, the PhilSports Complex in Pasig City has also been used as a Covid-19 facility and is now being used for training.
The national boxing team has been training at the Teacher’s Camp while the national athletics team has also been in bubble-type training at Baguio Athletic Bowl. Both teams are currently in Baguio City along with the national karatedo team.
The National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) has conducted a qualifying tournament to form the national team while the Billiard Sports Confederation of the Philippines has released the roster of its eight-member squad for the SEA Games, top-billed by world champions Carlo Biado and Rubilen Amit.
While there is excitement as SEA Games preparations shift to high gear, PSC national training director Marc Velasco underscored that there is still the risk of Covid-19 infection despite the low alert levels and the downtrend of Covid-19 cases.
Coaches and athletes should not lower their guards and keep on strictly observing the minimum public health standards (MPHS) as PSC’s top brass makes the necessary preparations to secure and ensure the health and safety of the national teams in government-managed facilities.
“Can we defend the overall championship? A lot of things have happened. Mahirap sagutin yan. Second, the budgetary constraints will have a huge effect on our campaign,” Tolentino said.
“Kaya pa rin i-defend pero uphill battle,” said Tolentino, adding the host country has scrapped more than 40 events where the Philippines won gold medals in 2019 and added more than 30 events where the hosts are favored to win this year.
The cycling chief said it could be a battle for second overall among the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
“Yan ang maglalaban sa two, three, four. I think Malaysia and Singapore kaya natin,” said Tolentino, who added that finishing fifth in the medal standings is a far-fetched idea.
“Malabo na siguro yan (fifth place) with what happened in 2019,” added the POC prexy, recalling the year when the Philippines hosted the Games and won the overall title for the second time.
The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has P121 million funds allocated for the SEA Games. Originally, the budget stood at P200 million, but so much money was already spent for training before the pandemic kicked.
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