‘Sad, upset’ Pinoy para athletes hope for unity amid SEA Games leadership row

Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 22 2019 09:02 PM

Some athletes preparing for the SEA Games feel that the conflict between 2 parties claiming to be the legitimate tournament organizer is a distraction. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—Disputes among sports leaders are causing more stress on athletes already feeling the pressure, as they prepare for the 30th Southeast Asian Games later this year.

The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) are digging their heels in a disagreement over who should organize the biennial multisports event.

Joey Romasanta, who replaced resigned Ricky Vargas as POC president, is questioning Phisgoc’s claim that it should stage the 11-nation meet when it is supposed to only function as an ad hoc body.

Michael Barredo, president of the Philippine Paralympic Committee, called for unity and urged officials to show that the country can rise above their differences.

“It’s impossible to isolate the athletes from what’s happening up there. In other words, ’pag nagbabanggaan ’yan sa taas, maririnig mo ’yung kulog, mararamdaman mo ’yan, you will feel the shaking,” he told ABS-CBN News during the Lakad Para sa Atleta at University of the Philippines in Diliman in Quezon City Saturday, a unity walk to raise awareness and funds benefiting the country’s Para athletes.

(If people clash at the top, you will feel the shaking.)

More than 2,000 participants joined the walk, as some rolled in their wheelchairs to promote inclusion in sports.

Table tennis player Josephine Medina, who won a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, said the squabbles are affecting athletes.

“It has some effect kasi malulungkot ka, kasi nga dapat naka-focus sila in supporting the athlete,” she said.

(It has some effect because this issue saddens us. They should be focused on supporting athletes.)

Powerlifter Adeline Dumapong, bronze medalist in the 2018 Asian Para Games, said she opts not to get involved in political issues.

“Everybody is looking forward, we’re hosting it. Medyo inaayos pa ’yung mga detalye pero I think the Philippines naman dahil kilala tayo sa pagiging hospitable, maayos natin ’yon,” she said.

(Some details are still being ironed out, but I think the Philippines, because we are known for being hospitable, will pull it off.)

Despite increased incentives, some Philippine athletes feel that basic support is not sufficient. For instance, those who have not won an international competition yet are not receiving allowances despite years dedicating themselves in the sport.

Medina said her team does not have a service vehicle to go to events, making it hard and more expensive for them to commute.

Barredo vowed to stay the course notwithstanding the brouhaha.

“We continue to motivate and encourage our athletes, both able-bodied and Para athletes, to continue concentrating and focusing on their training. And we’re hoping that officials that are having misunderstandings or differences in opinion are able to fix things further and sooner,” he said.

The region’s athletes will see action in a total of 523 events in 56 sports at the SEA Games, which will be held in several spots in Luzon including New Clark City in Capas town, Tarlac from November 30 to December 11.

The ASEAN Para Games, on the other hand, will take place in January 2020. More than 200 Filipino Para athletes will compete in 16 events.

The Philippines last hosted the SEA Games in 2005.

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2019 SEA Games