There’s a running joke in the sports community about the generosity of Manuel V. Pangilinan, a patron of several national programs.
“MVP is so supportive of the sports that he is involved with that if there is a tournament that is held on the moon, he would not hesitate to send athletes there to compete,” said one jaded observer of the local sporting scene.
(Editor’s Note: InterAKTV is part of InterAksyon.com is the online news portal of TV5, which is chaired by Pangilinan.)
That’s almost exactly what happened to the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) that the businessman finances and supports as well.
Last week, a five-man boxing squad took part in the last London Olympics-qualifying event in Astana, Kazakhstan, and went home empty-handed despite the heavy financial assistance Pangilinan’s PLDT-Smart had given it the past few years.
Charly Suarez came close to earning a berth to the London Games but he blew his chance, losing to a superior Chinese rival in the finals of their lightweight match. Too bad, because there was only one ticket at stake in the division, preventing Suarez from joining light-flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga.
Four other punchers — 2010 Asian Games gold medalist Rey Saludar, Dennis Galvan, Wilfredo Lopez and Joegin Ladon were eliminated early in the tournament.
Pangilinan can’t be faulted for the debacle.
The man had given so much to ABAP that it was a huge disappointment that only one amateur fighter would go on to compete and go for gold in London.
And even then, Barriga’s qualification to the Games is a hot topic among sports aficionados. He actually got an Olympic berth after his tormentor in the quarterfinals, Chinese Zou Shiming, went on to rule the division.
That means Barriga didn’t really gain his lofty status as a participant to the London Games because of merit, because he rode on the prowess of his Chinese opponent to secure the slot.
Still, ABAP is determined to back Barriga’s bid in London by giving him more than ample training and attention. After all, he is the sport’s lone bet in London at the moment, although two lady punchers will try to win slots when they compete next month in China.
Since Pangilinan truly doesn’t deserve the blame for Philippine amateur boxing’s woeful performance, who should be held accountable?
This leaves us with the coaching staff and the management team that runs the ABAP program.
Some years back, a high-ranking ABAP official tried to recruit Filipino-American basketball player Alex Crisano to become an amateur heavyweight boxer owing to his imposing size, appearance and hardcourt attitude.
According to reports, Crisano used to wear a pair of gloves back in the US and had once knocked out somebody with just one punch.
The thrilled but clueless official thought he had some sort of a big idea by tapping Crisano to beef up the Philippine team and his brainchild even merited space in one of the country’s leading broadsheets.
When the idea was broached to Crisano, the guy said he would give it a shot, and when he was told to report to the gym one afternoon, a number of officials showed up to see if he truly deserves a spot.
But one official smelled something fishy when Crisano was still nowhere to be found one hour after the appointed time. When the official got Crisano on the phone, the 6-foot-7 banger sounded groggy on the line and was surprised when told about his gym appointment.
Inability to inspire
The lack of sound knowledge of the sport of boxing on the part of the ABAP hierarchy is just one factor for amateur boxing’s decline.
Another reason why the Philippines has been languishing in the world stage the past years can be traced to the inability of the coaching staff to inspire the fighters and even teach new things to them.
While members of the coaching staff are all decorated and competent, having donned the national colors and even won a myriad of awards, they have lost their luster.
It’s high-time that the ABAP do away with the current roster of trainers and coaches in favor of a new batch of strategists. Hiring a foreign coach — preferably from some Eastern European country — should make a difference.
The last time the Philippines took a medal home from the Olympics was in 1996 in Atlanta courtesy of Onyok Velasco.
Since then, the Philippines has gone home with fat eggs from Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
It certainly looks like Barriga will end up going home with nothing, unless he improbably morphs into a fearsome fighter in the months leading to the Olympics.
Between now and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, it doesn’t look like the suffering will come to an end because it takes a solid program, knowledge, talent and dedication to realize an Olympic dream.
Philippine amateur boxing, after all, needs more than just money.
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