(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) chairman Robert Aventajado welcomed the other day the proposed revival of the Philippine National Games (PNG) by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and said it would be a perfect fit as the culmination of the Philippine Olympic Festival (POF) which begins a five-region qualifying series next month.

The POF, a private initiative of the POC, is an annual event, now in its third year, that integrates, horizontally and vertically, the sports development efforts of the National Sports Associations (NSAs), Local Government Units and the PSC. It involves only 17 sports, namely, aquatics, athletics, archery, arnis, baseball, basketball, chess, football, gymnastics, judo, karatedo, muay, powerlifting, sepak takraw, table tennis, taekwondo and wrestling. Boxing is not in the POF calendar.

Unlike the Palarong Pambansa which caters to in-school youth up to the secondary level and is organized by the Department of Education, the POF is open to out-of-school athletes and leaves age eligibility to the discretion of each supervising NSA.

Last year, the POF held qualifying competitions for Central-Northern Luzon in Vigan, Mindanao in Cagayan de Oro, Visayas in Antique, the National Capital Region in Quezon City and Bicol-Southern Tagalog in Rizal before staging the National Championships in Manila. Total expenses amounted to P6.5 million with participants of 11,200 or a cost per athlete of only P580.

“The POF provides a clear pathway for athletes aspiring to be in the national pool through an extremely cost-effective process,” said Aventajado. “Our long-term objective is to develop athletes who will represent our country in the 2012 Olympics.”

Aventajado said the POF National Championships, which bring together the regional qualifying gold medalists in action against national athletes, will be replaced by the PNG if it is revived.

“The POF is not in conflict with the Palarong Pambansa and could easily merge with the PNG,” said Aventajado. “Our idea is to develop a sustainable model for early talent identification and development of future elite athletes. We can all work together with a common vision and a common plan of action. The POF is an effort of the POC and its member NSAs. We are independently funded and do not rely on the PSC. That gives the PSC an advantage in using its resources for further sports development.”

Aventajado said the POF’s measure of success should be the athletes it will deliver to the national pool and how they eventually perform in international competitions.

“Accountability is important,” said Aventajado. “Every program should be evaluated based on whether it succeeds or not. That’s the only way for us to know if we’re progressing or if we need to change our program or even our leaders.”

Aventajado said after the Sydney Olympics, the Australian Institute of Sports organized an annual youth festival which later qualified 30 athletes for the Athens Olympics. The 30 Australian athletes from the youth program brought back eight gold medals. Aventajado said the Australian experience inspired him to conceptualize the POF.

“From the POF, we’ve identified over 80 swimmers in the triple A category and 26 in the quadruple A category,” said Aventajado. “Based on age and gender standards, our prospects are at par with their counterparts from Europe and the US and if they are exposed to quality training and competitions, should be ready for the 2012 Olympics. We’ve also identified prospects in table tennis, athletics and muay. In fact, two of our muay medalists were sent to the recent Southeast Asian Games.”

This year, the POF will hold qualifiers for Central-North Luzon in Subic, Mindanao in Tubud, Lanao del Norte, NCR in Manila, Visayas in Dumaguete and Bicol-Southern Tagalog in Los Baños. The National Championships will be staged in Cagayan de Oro.

PSC chairman William Ramirez said he is batting for the revival of the PNG because it provides a level of competition beyond the tertiary stage.

“The POF is just a fraction of what the PNG covers,” said Ramirez. “Not all NSAs and not all the country’s regions are involved in the POF. That’s why it’s critical to bring back the PNG with the cooperation of the Department of Interior and Local Government. It completes the cycle from grassroots development to the Palarong Pambansa to the tertiary level with the PRISAA, NCRAA, UAAP and NCAA.”

Ramirez said he is amenable to discussing with Aventajado how to incorporate the POF’s vital elements in the PNG blueprint. If Ramirez has his way, the PNG will be back in the calendar this December.

The PNG was the brainchild of former POC president Celso Dayrit and was staged thrice up to 1998.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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