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By Ding Marcelo

Despite their best heroic efforts, Filipino athletes, except for a very few, will come home from the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia beaten and humiliated. Coming home with them are sports officials, also quite embarrassed, or at least they should be.

 But Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, the chief architect of the country’s SEA Games campaign, cannot ignore this latest affront to the country’s sports pride. He has to take responsibility for the Philippines’ woeful performance.

 The country—with a 498-strong contingent and some R100 million spent in preparations—won just 23 gold medals and placed sixth overall, the same spot where it was two years ago in Vietnam, where it captured 29 gold medals.

 What this shows are the continuing deterioration of Philippine sports and the unassailable conclusion that our sports program has remained stagnant and our athletes’ skill levels unchanged.

 Before the Games, one sports official talked of landing 50 gold medals and improving on our sixth-place finish. At the end of the Games, that proved to be a prediction based, not on real possibilities, but on a wish list.

 When the final medal count and placings are completed tomorrow, give or take minor changes, host Malaysia will top the overall standings with 101 gold medals, Thailand second with 56 gold medals, Vietnam third with 53, Singapore fourth with 48, and Indonesia fifth with 31 golds.

 The Philippines’ 23 gold medal-production puts it at sixth overall, ahead of the region’s regular tailenders: Myanmar at seventh with 7 gold medals; Laos eighth, 2 golds; Cambodia ninth, 1 gold; and Brunei and Timor-Leste, 0 gold each. The Philippines cannot be proud beating these countries.

 The results also show that the Philippines continues to be the whipping boys of the SEA Games. Our neighbors have been making great strides, sending their top athletes to Asian Games and Olympic glories, while here we are, still struggling to avoid repeated humiliations in this regional meet.

 Think about this: The SEA Games are the weakest and least competitive among international, multi-event sports competitions in the world, even less competitive than the African Games.

 We send our best athletes to SEAG, and we can’t even put up a decent show there against our neighbors’ athletes. It’s almost like our athletes served as stepping stones in our neighbors’ march to medal glory, or worse, as their practice opponents and warm-up partners.

 While people will be disgusted with sports officials following this sad spectacle, I predict Cojuangco will not lose sleep over this. He’s used to the humiliation. It’s been going on for more more than 12 years, the entire time he’s been at the helm of the POC.   He blames others for the setbacks and does not say sorry to the people who support sports through taxes.

 This mammoth setback comes on the heels of a recent government decision to host the next SEAG in 2019. With a dismal performance like this, how can Cojuangco and the government justify hosting the Games? The government will be spending nearly R1 billion for this enterprise that will only glorify Cojuangco and showcase our own failures.

 This Sports Fan would prefer to spend that kind of money preparing our athletes for the Asian Games, the Olympics, and the next SEA Games. Instead, Cojuangco would have us spend it on refurbishing ageing sports stadiums that will need upgrading immediately after.

 That said, if the country really wants infrastructure to honor our athletes, what we should go for is a state-of-the art national stadium. Nearly every nation in Southeast Asia has one – yes, even Myanmar.

 But, right now and more to the point, Cojuangco should consider stepping down. The latest SEA Games have just shown how he has failed as as sports leader. I repeat, give others a chance to lead sports, Mr. Cojuangco.

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