Author: 
Agnes Cruz • Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2003-08-15 03:00

MANILA, 15 August 2003 — The coming Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi in December will have to be the top priority of the cash-strapped Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

Anticipating a big Philippine delegation to the biennial games, the PSC has opted to put on hold its planned regional games and the national championships to concentrate its resources to the Vietnam competition, instead.

PSC Chairman Eric Buhain said the agency decided to shelve the Luzon and Visayas Games as well as the Philippine National Championships, which the commission initially planned to stage months before the Dec. 5 to 13 SEA Games.

As part of the country’s ambitious bid to win the overall title in the biennial meet, the Philippines is determined to send a big fighting unit in the face of an expected tough opposition.

“All the extra projects have to be temporarily put on hold because we are focusing more mainly on the SEA Games. We’ll just have to stage the other grassroots programs which are under the GAA (general appropriations), like the Batang Pinoy, Mindanao Games and the Palarong Pambansa,” Buhain said. Buhain noted the Luzon and Visayas Games, which were actually meant to complete the regional eliminations servings as qualifying to the National Championships that he himself had envisioned as a “best of the best tournament” leading to the SEAG, would be launched next year instead.

The projects were the subject of the criticism from the Philippine Olympic Committee at the height of its word war last month. POC president Celso Dayrit had described them as “irrelevant” but Buhain had defended them as part of the PSC’s grassroots programs that would benefit the national sports association themselves.

The Batang Pinoy, the government’s project for children-athletes aged 12 and below, set January 2003 while the Mindanao Games, part of peace efforts in troubled Mindanao is slated October. The Palaro in Tubod, Lanao del Norte has been postponed indefinitely pending clearance from the military.

The Philippines will use the Hanoi Games as part of their preparations when the country hosts the regional multi-event competition in 2005.

“This way, our athletes will be able to get some exposure and experience geared toward 2005 when we get to host the SEA Games,” said Buhain.

Buhain said the PSC will extend all the help needed by the country’s top athletes to achieve his target of winning 60 gold medals in the Hanoi Games, an output which he predicted will be good for a top three overall finish. If the local athletes achieve this target, Buhain expects that the country stands a good chance to battle for top place when it gets its turn to host the SEA Games in 2005.

“If we get into the top three, we have a good chance of getting the top spot in 2005,’’ said the 31-year-old former swimmer who was 1991 SEAG Best Male Athlete.

Although golf and bowling, disciplines which gave the country five golds in Kuala Lumpur, had been scrapped by Vietnamese organizers, chess and dance sports were approved for inclusion by the Southeast Asian Sports Federation.

Around 500 to 600 athletes and officials will most likely make up the Philippine delegation, which Buhain estimates would cost the government sports agency around 35 million pesos.

The PSC is doing away with the lean and mean mantra the agency adopted for the Busan Asiad last year.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, two years ago, the Philippines finished fifth with 31 gold, 66 silver and 67 bronze medals.

A total of 502 athletes and officials made up that delegation, which the PSC sent to Malaysia with a budget of 30 million pesos.

The PSC is expected to spend some 185 million pesos for the training and preparation, including equipment and actual participation expenses of athletes in Vietnam. During the Busan Asian Games last year, the PSC spent 200 million pesos for the RP delegation of 218 athletes and 82 officials.

The Philippines bagged three golds, seven silvers and 13 bronzes, which was the country’s best output in the quadrennial event in 36 years. Buhain, however, said that only those who make the criteria set by the PSC and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) will make up the team in Vietnam.

“The athletes have to make sure they meet the standard we have set,” said Buhain.

Buhain stressed that national sports associations will have to justify the medal chances of their athletes to be included in the RP contingent, which the PSC will fund.

The PSC has spent over 105 million pesos in financial assistance to the national sports associations, which are training their athletes for the SEAG.

Buhain had sought for “augmentation funds” from President Arroyo and First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, specially for the actual participation of the delegation that currently counts 422 athletes, and estimated to cost 35 to 40 million pesos.

“The bulk of our funds goes to the preparatory aspect such as training and international exposures for the athletes leading to the SEAG. We don’t have the P40 million as stated in the papers. We will ask President Arroyo for augmentation funds for the actual participation, that is why we were prudent in the selection of the athletes,” he said.

The First Gentleman, through his foundation had pledged 10 million pesos for the athletes. It was not yet decided whether the money would be spent for exposure or for the actual campaign.

“We’ll give the First Gentleman a freehand on where the money will go, whether for preparatory exposures, training equipment or the actual participation,” Buhain said, adding the combined PSC-POC SEAG task force would be allowed to make recommendations to Arroyo.

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