JANUARY 18, 2009
(STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - An unprecedented turnout of over 600 boxers from all over the country flooded the Negros Occidental Multi-Purpose Activity Center (NOMPAC) for the Smart National Amateur Boxing Championship, some of whom even registering while the competition had already started. The first tournament of the new leadership of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines brought in boxers from parts of the country that once felt excluded from consideration in eliminations for the Philippine team.

“Our policy is to really be inclusive, not exclusive,” admitted ABAP president and PLDT senior vice-president Ricky Vargas. “We want to be able to spot talents who can represent the country. Among those doing that here are our two Cuban coaches, and some other experts we’ve asked to check out the boxers. And this is not an event, but part of a larger, long-term program.”

“This is really something. I remember when I was an amateur, there only used to be about 250 to 300 boxers. This is a good sign for boxing,” said four-time world champion Manny Pacquiao, who arrived with former governor Chavit Singson. Pacquiao himself has sponsored three teams to the competition.

Children are classified into various age and weight classes in shorter fights with abbreviated rounds. Older athletes box the standard four-round bouts, with two-minute rounds.

It was only bad weather and economics that delayed the arrival of some delegations. Others decided to register as walk-ins.

“Four of our boxers were stranded in Cebu for four days, because the strong waves kept the ferry from making the trip,” said Northern Samar Gov. Raul Daza, a long-time ABAP official. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but this event is a great start.”

Local government officials and congressmen from different parts of the country joined top sports officials like Philippine Sports Commission chair Butch Ramirez and commissioner Eric Loretizo in supporting and observing the event. ABAP secretary-general and Smart sports head Pato Gregorio’s compact team on the ground spent weeks preparing for its first major event.

“In a country of 90 million people, there has to be at least one boxer who can bring us an Olympic gold medal,” Gregorio exclaimed. “And we only need one to open the floodgates of participation in other sports, as well.”

Later this week, all the regional presidents of ABAP will join the national convention, wherein policies will be set down, and each region will be asked to make suggestions on how to better run the national sports association. The body will also decide how to ensure that each regional group will also do its part. ABAP’s leadership says that everyone will be heard.

“There is an air of optimism, of possibility,” says veteran broadcaster Ed Picson, whose group is providing video documentation and coverage of the entire tournament. “The general consensus is one of willingness to listen, and help.”

As of now, the main goal is to find talent, and perhaps get a few to join the national team in the Laos SEA Games. In the next few months, ABAP will set up regional training centers in at least four locations throughout the country, and provide them well-trained coaches to improve the level of the sport. In areas where there are existing facilities and dormitories, renovation will be done.

“The biggest problem of boxers is that they get homesick, miss their families and are unable to focus on training,” clarified Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Monico Puentevella, who partnered with Smart to bring the event to Bacolod. “If you have the training centers in the provinces, you are close to where your talent base is also.”

On Thursday, ABAP chairman and PLDT head Manny V. Pangilinan will fly to Bacolod for the congress, and will also announce the plans for athletes to make it to the national team, qualify for the London Olympics, and the rewards for those who win medals in the Games. ABAP is confident that, in four years’ time, the fruits of all these efforts will be apparent.

“This proves it can be done, and not just for boxing, but for other sports,” Pangilinan told The STAR in a text message. “But we need media’s help to create a true following for amateur boxing.”

There is a new air of unity in amateur boxing. The spadework is being done. The running of the organization is being professionalized. And the boxers are turning out by the hundreds. Those who did not make it this time will be itching to show their stuff the next time around. In the long run, a bigger harvest will mean bigger returns for the sport.

The breeze of hope is blowing in amateur boxing.

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Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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