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Team Phl faces uphill battle



Defending champion Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are ending up rumbling with each other in a battle royale for second to fourth places as host Vietnam is poised to dominate the 31st Southeast Asian Games from 12 to 23 May.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said the host country is already locked for the overall title so the battle now boils down to the second to fourth places.

He said with the way things are going, it appears that reigning champion Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have what it takes to emerge with a bridesmaid finish.

“It’s going to be a tough battle for 2-3-4 (places) involving the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia,” Tolentino said during the virtual Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum yesterday.

Budgetary constraints brought about by the pandemic have greatly affected the Philippines buildup for the SEA Games.

Although he is not totally giving up the bid to retain the overall championship, Tolentino swears Vietnam is hell-bent in ruling the biennial sportsfest that was originally scheduled for December 2021.

“We still can but it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Tolentino said, stressing that the host country scrapped more than 40 events where the Philippines dominated in 2019 and added 30 events Vietnam is heavily favored to win.

The Filipinos are coming off their most successful SEA Games ever in which they won 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals when it hosted the 30th edition in 2019.

The Nationals harvested 14 gold medals from arnis, 11 from athletics and 10 from dancesports to underscore their dominance in all fronts.

Asked whether the Philippines could end up outside the top four and finishes fifth, the POC head believes that’s just simply a longshot.

“I think we can handle Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.

On the strength of its championship finish in 2019, Tolentino, who also heads cycling and serves as Tagaytay City congressman, the Philippines is good enough to threaten the Thais and Indonesians for first runner-up honors.

Still, Tolentino is a bit worried about the lack of overseas training and tournaments for Filipino athletes to take part owing to the pandemic.

While it appears that just about every country had been affected by Covid-19, other nations, some of them in the Southeast Asian region, still managed to keep their sporting programs in running mode.

The Philippines wasn’t as fortunate as its major sporting venues were transformed into Covid facilities.