Battle looms for SEAG control
There is a looming head-on collision between parties looking to control the organization of the country’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games.
Joey Romasanta, who assumed the presidency of the Philippine Olympic Committee after the stunning resignation of Ricky Vargas, wants the Olympic body to supervise the SEA Games organization because it is “the franchise holder of the Southeast Asian Games here in the country.”
“[S]o we have all the rights to organize it in accordance to the mandate given to us by the Southeast Asia Games Federation Council,” added Romasanta on Thursday.
Taguig City Rep.-elect Alan Peter Cayetano wagged a finger at that declaration.
In a press conference also Thursday, Cayetano reiterated that the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) that he currently chairs will continue running preparations for the SEA Games.
“Our task is simple,” Cayetano said, “[it is] to organize the Games and try to make it the best staging and the most-watched SEA Games.”
And based on an order from President Duterte, it looks like the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) will also be on top of preparations, too—although the government sports arm and the ad hoc committee headed by Cayetano appear welded at the hip.
PSC chair Butch Ramirez said in a statement that President Duterte has asked him to make sure the Games go on as planned after Romasanta broached the idea of pushing the schedule to January next year and to ensure that the athletes are shielded from all the politicking that threatens to disrupt preparations for the biennial meet.
“We must isolate our athletes from all these issues so they can focus on their mission,” said Ramirez, also the Philippine chef de mission of Team Philippines in the 11-nation Games.
“The SEA Games will push through as planned. To our friends and leaders of the sporting community, I reiterate my call [for] unity,” said Ramirez.
But Ramirez’s plea, a government source said, was a scrubbed-up version of the President’s marching orders, which was to make sure the PSC oversees what is happening with the SEA Games organization.
The money, after all, is coming from the government,” the Inquirer source said Thursday. “The President practically told the PSC Chairman to stay on top of the preparations.”
“The President talked [to the PSC officials] and said that since the government is accountable for money that will be spent, it stands to reason that the PSC should have control over the organization of the SEA Games,” the source added.
These clashing claims of control could come to a head on the June 25 special general assembly where Romasanta’s ascension as Vargas’ replacement will be questioned due to eligibility issues.
Romasanta was instrumental in rescuing the SEA Games hosting that the country was set to beg off from. The long-time right-hand man of former POC president Peping Cojuangco Jr. sought Cayetano’s help to convince President Duterte to support a turnaround on the decision to defer hosting the SEA Games.
“There are those saying that the POC should run the SEA Games,” Cayetano said. “Let me clarify this. That is the stand of former congressman Peping Cojuangco. Well, the President said ‘no.’”
The former foreign secretary said part of the agreement to reassume the country’s hosting rights for the SEA Games was that the “government will nominate the chair for the organizing committee.”
But Cayetano’s name-dropping of the President, and even President Duterte’s orders to the PSC to take control of the SEA Games may have one problem: The International Olympic Committee frowns on government intervention and has shown that it will not hesitate to crack the whip on erring countries.
Romasanta also said national sports associations should run their respective sports in the SEA Games because they would be held accountable by their respective international federations if something happens.
“You can’t expect a non-volleyball person to be on top of running volleyball events,” said Romasanta, who already sat down with Ramirez and Executive Sec. Salvador Medialdea to explain the situation.
Cayetano said he is willing to thresh out whatever problems the new POC leadership has with the Phisgoc and even offered its officers a place in the organizing committee.
“Everyone is welcome,” he said, while warning that a prolonged battle for control of the organizing committee would have serious repercussions on the event.
“We are already past the halfway mark of preparations. We already faced a delay in the release of the budget, which was even cut by P2.5 billion.”
“If this were a business enterprise, we can dissolve the partnership and just liquidate assets. But if we have [an organizational] transition at this point, we will have a big problem,” he said. “As it is, we are struggling to meet deadlines because of bureaucratic problems.”