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Opinion

Bad timing

Julius Manicad

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There was sadness in Ricky Vargas’ voice when he faced members of the Philippine Sportswriters Association for the first time since becoming Philippine Olympic Committee president in February of last year.

He admitted he’s struggling with the culture of politics in the local Olympic council, especially since majority of the executive board members have close ties with former POC chief Jose “Peping” Cojuangco.

In fact, there were three instances when crucial decisions were not made due to lack of quorum in the POC executive council meeting. The first happened in September last year and the second was in March when Vargas’ group declared a no-quorum before the members could formally beg off.

There was another scheduled meeting by the POC expanded board last Wednesday.

But the meeting was also cancelled due to poor attendance, much to the dismay of some executive council members.

Vargas also claimed some personalities in the POC board are plotting to unseat him. He even texted a senior POC official to inquire the veracity of his information, but he got a flat denial.

“He should understand that at this point, nobody is interested in his position,” the board member told me during a lengthy conversation. “We are neck-deep in our preparation for the SEA Games and a change of leadership is not advisable.”

“He was fed with ‘fake news’ by whoever is advising him about this coup. This is baseless and unfounded.”

These cancellations of crucial meetings and talks about a coup only reveal the deep cracks in the highest sports organization in the country. It also dented Vargas’ supposedly rock-solid leadership and raised questions on how he could rally the athletes if he can’t even unite his own board.

To be fair, I believe Vargas is a good person and leader.

He has an honest intention of putting the Philippines back on the international sporting map using his vast experience and sterling credentials in the corporate circle.

The only problem is that he got into the POC at the wrong time.

Vargas came into the POC in the first quarter of 2018. It was a point when the POC — with Cojuangco at the helm — was already laying down the groundwork for the country’s hosting of the 30th SEA Games.

The organizing body led by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had been identified and the Olympic council was already preparing for the first SEA Games Federation Council meeting in two months’ time to finalize the list of sports and number of events.

Then, the Pasig Regional Trial Court decided that the disqualification of Vargas in the POC elections in 2016 was illegally enforced.

It paved the way for a special election. The POC was divided over the implementation of the special polls, but International Olympic Committee representative Frank Elizalde declared that they should follow the local law instead of facing contempt charges.

Vargas won via a wide margin, 24-15, and the pendulum of power in the POC completely tilted in his favor.

Vargas admitted that he has zero experience in sports politics. In fact, after a sorry performance in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, he announced that he was resigning as president of the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines.

He won via a wide margin, 24-15, and the pendulum of power in the POC completely tilted in his favor.

But he did not. Now, he is facing a troubled body composed of personalities with various ideas and interests on how to effectively run Philippine sports. He claimed he doesn’t have the loyalty of the executive board and some national sports association leaders were asking him for political payback for their support.

Even worse, the organization is already in the thick of preparations for the biggest sports conclave in the region. Assuming the leadership with barely a year left only reset the foundation that Cojuangco and his group had laid down.

With so many problems they have right now, nobody would want to be the POC president at this point.
Uniting a heavily fractured board and changing the culture in the Olympic council while preparing for the biggest and grandest SEA Games ever is not for the faint of heart.

But since he brought the case to court and accepted the POC presidency, he has no choice but to play the cards he was dealt with.

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