PRESIDENT Ricky Vargas of the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines or ABAP and his trusted executive director and our longtime friend Ed Picson, have been truly vindicated by their decision to allow Mark Anthony Barriga and Charly Suarez to continue competing in the Aiba pro boxing tournament, which gives the two boxers their best chance to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Brazil, where our country will continue its quest for a first Olympic gold.
You can understand and appreciate the decision of ABAP on two counts. The first is that after having been painfully denied twice before —in Tokyo when Anthony Villanueva lost a questionable decision to Stanislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union and in 1996 when Onyok Velasco was beaten by his bigger Bulgarian opponent Daniel Petrov in another somewhat controversial decision, we needed another opportunity to right the perceived wrongs done to us in past Olympics and hope that under a fairer, more enlightened leadership of Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, president if the international governing body for the sport, our chances to strike gold have immeasurably improved.
The other factor is that the ABAP has a wealth of talent in their national pool, perfectly capable of picking up the gauntlet and bringing the Philippines the gold medals we needed to help the overall cause and to give us the boxing championships, which we achieved in style with 5 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals, well ahead of perennial champions and our regular nemesis, Thailand.
Indeed, if anything, the results where our boxers overcame their vaunted Thai opponents in the earlier rounds of the competition in Singapore was a testament to the fairness of judging, especially now that executive director Ho Kim, who manifestly interfered in the judging in the last Asian Games in South Korea and where some of our boxers were victims of unmitigated robbery in the ring, has been fired by Dr. Wu. It demonstrates the courage and the leadership qualities of Dr. Wu, which should serve as an example to our own supposed leaders in sports.
We know that Philippine Sports Commission Chairman Richie Garcia, desperate to help Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuango turn things around after one unmitigated disaster after another in previous SEA Games, where we were humiliated in the final medal tally and overall standings, wanted Barriga and Suarez whom he considered sure gold medal winners in the team. In fairness to Garcia, his stance was understandable even though he failed to appreciate the obviously better judgment of the coaching staff and Vargas and Picson, who knew what the situation was and had confidence in the abilities of our boxers to successfully carry the fight even without Barriga and Suarez.
Vargas and Picson, were proven right in handsome fashion because in our minds, as we did the telecast of the finals for TV5, we strongly believed that female boxer Nesthy Petecio, who dropped a split decision to Vietnam’s Thi Bang Le deserved to win but was denied a chance to increase our gold-medal tally by one, while Barriga’s replacement in the light flyweight division Rogen Ladon put on a gallant stand before ultimately losing, also by a split decision.
The winner, was Indonesia’s Kornelis Langu, who cried like a baby after the decision was announced, perhaps reflecting his joy as well as surprise that he had beaten Ladon in a close fight.
Quite honestly, we felt the Indonesian boxer connected with the cleaner punches and we had no problem accepting the judges’ decision.
To us, Vargas and Picson with the support of ABAP chairman Manny Pangilinan, the legendary supporter of Philippine sports, were well aware of what was at stake and had confidence as a team that our boxers would deliver.
If anything, this sends a timely message to PSC chairman Garcia and POC president Cojuangco as well as some of their underlings that it would be best to leave National Sports Associations known for their unsullied integrity and knowledge of their sport and their dedication and commitment alone and to concentrate on NSAs such as aquatics where our two divers were an absolute flop and for which they, and indeed the Philippines, were ridiculed no end around the world.
Mark Joseph, who heads the association, had the temerity to claim the result was a lack of support, including decent training facilities, which prompts us to ask, whatever happened to the P40 million illegally siphoned to Joseph by former PAGCOR head Ephraim Genuino, part of which, by all accounts, was returned to Genuino for the construction of the excellent Trace swimming facility in Laguna, where our swimmers and divers could have very well trained.
Joseph has been a protected species of Cojuangco and the sooner Cojuangco shows the leadership qualities of a POC president to get Joseph removed and is replaced by an individual who genuinely cares for the sport and whose integrity isn’t questioned, the better for Philippine sports, as well as for Cojuangco himself.