How underdog Mikee Cojuangco secured the position of a lifetime at IOC

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jul 19 2020 09:14 PM

Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski developed a mutual familiarity with the IOC inner circle thanks to her father, former POC president Jose "Peping" Cojuangco Jr. (left). Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

Philippine Olympic Committee first vice president Joey Romasanta, a veteran sports hand, was worried when he learned that Mikaela “Mikee” Cojuangco-Jaworski, the International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines, was a candidate for the IOC Executive Board.

“There were four candidates vying for two slots on the board,” Romasanta, the Larong Volleyball Pilipinas Inc. president and former Project Gintong Alay executive director, noted. “This really got me worried about Mikee’s chances.”

Ranged against the 2002 Busan Asian Games gold medalist were rivals with sterling credentials and some who were more senior at the world Olympic body than her.

Also those vying for the positions were Dagmawit Germay Berhane, the former president of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee; Belgian businessman Pierre Olivers Beckers-Viejuant, the ex-chairman of the Belgian Olympic Committee; and Argentine banker Gerardo Werthein, also an equestrian rider.

“There was also another Asian who got elected to the IOC board so that made her (Cojuangco’s) situation even more difficult,” Romasanta said, referring to Singapore’s Ng Ser Miang, who was re-elected as IOC first vice president.

“Who was Mikee from the Philippines anyway? She did not have a power bloc of her own”

In the end, the POC official’s anxieties proved to be unfounded as Cojuangco, 46, achieved history for the country, garnering 45 out of 93 votes among the IOC members who cast their ballots and secured a slot on the 15-person IOC board led by IOC president Thomas Bach of Germany.

She is the first Filipino to reach the highest echelon of the IOC and only the fifth female on the board after American IOC vice-president Anita DeFrantz and board members Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba, Kirstie Coventry of Zimbabwe and Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel.

Romasanta stressed “that not all of the 206 National Olympic Committees have an IOC member or representative. It often takes years for someone to become one. They are often prominent sports personalities, celebrities and even royalty, who often wait for years.”

He believes that it was Bach’s predecessor, Jacques Rogge, who had caught the attention of the former movie actress when she was the regular chaperone of her father, former POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr., to his trips to the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The elder Cojuangco was POC chief from 2004 to 2018.

“Mikee was an accomplished equestrian, a former Asian Games gold medalist and articulate, not to mention being the niece of the late President Corazon Aquino. These were the things going for her,” Romasanta cited. “At that time, Rogge was pushing for greater involvement of women in the Olympic movement.

“She appeared at the right place at the right time and was a refreshing face on the IOC scene.”

But the POC official pointed out that it was not just the “star” appeal of Cojuangco, who became IOC representative to the Philippines in 2013, that likely won the former Belgian physician over.

“You may have charisma but if you are a non-performer, hindi rin pupuwede (it cannot be),” Romasanta stressed, citing the fact that Cojuangco holds a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“Elections will always be political. But what will carry you through is your performance and also your relationship with other people,” Romasanta emphasized, underscoring the diverse backgrounds and cultures that make up the Olympic family.

Low key yet efficient, Cojuangco has proven her worth and productivity to the IOC, being a former and present member of several commissions that make the organization live up to its Olympic ideals and Latin motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher, Stronger).

They include: Coordination for the Games of the 32nd Olympiad Tokyo 2020 (2014 to the present); Women and Sports (2014-2015); Olympic Channel (2015 to the present), Communications (2015 to the present), Olympic Education (2015 to the present.)

She was a member of the Commission of the Evaluation for the Games of the 33rd Olympiad in 2024 (2016-2017) as well as a present member of the Commission of the Coordination of the Games of the 33rd Olympiad Paris.

“Mikee’s election was more of a recognition (of her accomplishments to the Olympic movement) than anything else,” the POC leader said. 

Romasanta, who practically saw the Cojuangco children grow up as a former personnel chief of the clan’s Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Tarlac, said that Mikee’s rise to the IOC board would have a great bearing in having an extra “ear” not only in the Philippines but also for Asia. 

“Whatever the Olympic concerns in Asia and the Philippines, she (Cojuangco) as a former athlete who can understand and carry it through to the board. It’s different when you are an insider,” he said.

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