THE coming 32nd Southeast Asian Games on May 5-17 could be the most challenging in the past two decades, with Cambodia as first-time host.
But Philippine chef de mission Chito Loyzaga is confident the Filipino athletes could continue to perform at a high-level, especially now that the sporting community has fully recovered from the effects of the COViD-19 pandemic.
“I have full trust and confidence in the leaders of our various NSAs, particularly those who have participated in the previous SEA Games in Vietnam,” said Loyzaga during the 48th “Sports on Air” program via Zoom.
“I’m sure they are also looking forward to participate in Cambodia and that they will do the necessary planning, preparations, and adjustments because they have a better understanding and vision on what their own athletes need to perform at the high level,” added Loyzaga.
The 64-year-old Loyzaga, who was appointed as chef de mission to Cambodia by Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino last September, said the country should brace for the challenges of competing in Cambodia.
“I think there are more challenges for us in Cambodia than in the previous SEA Games in Vietnam. As first-time host, siyempre alam natin magkakaroon yan ng birth pains sa kanila. Sigurado may mga pagkakamali o pagkukulang dahil first time nga nila mag-host although we all know they have already participated in other SEA Games,” explained Loyzaga, who also served as commissioner at the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
“But siyempre as a host, I’m sure gusto rin nila na bonggang-bongga ang hosting nila. And they also want to have a good performance infront of their own people in their own country. We also know that once you’re the host in the SEA Games, yung mga patakaran at patakbo ng tournaments, medyo pabor lagi sa iyo.Yan ang scenario na hinaharap natin ngayon.”
“But if I’m not mistaken, most of our NSAs have already started training a few months ago. So individually, very busy na ang mga NSAs natin sa kanilang preparations.
Loyzaga, also the president of the Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA), did not give any medal predictions or reveal the Filipinos’ immediate target of finish in the 11-nation competition which offers 608 events in 49 sports.
“At this point, it’s still too early to tell. And to be honest, it has not been discussed yet during our meetings with the NSAs. Nasa strategic planning pa lan kami. But as we speak, the marching order of POC president Bambol not only to me and my deputy CDMs Len Escollate of canoe-kayak and Paolo Tancontian of sambo but to all NSAs is full participation. Na masalihan natin lahat ng events na pwede tayong mag-participate,” recalled Loyzaga, who also worked as deputy CDM in the 2010 Asian Beach Games in Muscat, Oman.
“Perhaps sometime by end of January, we would be on a better situation to make a good assessment of our overall chances. But as part of the Philippine delegation, we always want our athletes to do better, perform better.”
A seven-time PBA champion and member of the PBA “40 Greatest Players”, Loyzaga is also excited about the Filipinos’chances in basketball two years after losing the coveted gold medal to Indonesia in Hanoi last May 2022.
“I think the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas) is doing its best. I know our team is busy with their practices and preparations for the coming FIBA World Cup, but I’m also sure they are also aware with what happened in Vietnam. They know it did not sit well to the whole country in losing the basketball gold medal to Indonesia,” explained Loyzaga.
“I still have full trust and confidence with the leadership of the SBP, even with the coaching staff, headed by coach Chot Reyes. I know they will prepare and prepare the best way that we can for us to be the dominant basketball country in Southeast Asia again.”
Loyzaga, who also serves as auditor of the POC, sees no problem with the decision of seversl NSAs to participate in pre-SEA Games competitions as part of their preparations.
“Our role as CDM is to make sure that the preparations of our NSAs for the SEA Games are running smoothly. Kung snong tournaments ang sasslihan nila, that’s their prerogative. If they feel na makakatulong sa mga atleta nila na lumahok sila sa ibang tournaments before the SEA Games, no problem. They are in a better position to make the decision,” claimed Loyzaga.
“The CDM is not going to involve itself, particularly in choosing the athletes who will participate in the SEA Games.”.
“Of course, we know na ang dalawang pinakamalaking pinaghahandaan natin ngayon ayon na din sa PSC ay ang SEA Games sa May at ang Asian Games sa September. Pero alam din natin na yun mga individual NSAs ay may mga committments din sa kanilang Asian federation or world federation na kailangang salihan or hindi. Pagdating sa desisyon na sasali sila o hindi, prerogative na ng NSA yun. Hindi na kami kailangan as the lead group for SEAG, Kung requirement na sumali sa own international federation, pupunta at pupunta ang mga yan. If that’s the case, the NSAs should talk directly to the POC and PSC,” he explained.
Asked about the support of the PSC, headed by Chairman Noli Eala and Commissioner Bong Coo, Loyzaga was visibly satisfied with his meetings with the officials of the government sports agency.
“The PSC is always very supportive.We have had meetings even thru zoon to discuss a lot of things as early as possible para hindi tayong scrambling. Sa meeting, we also briefly discussed yun transportation ng delegation. May flight ba o walang flight or kailangang i-chartered. I think meron atang direct flight si Philippine Airlines to Phnom Penh. Based on history, hindi naman lahat ng athletes, kailangan sabay-sabay na pumunta, Sa next meeting, siguro we have to make a decision on the design of the team uniform and other matters. Maybe we can do it before Christmas or after the holidays. Kumbaga sa basketball, ang bola nasa mga kamay namin ngayon.” With reports from Gab Ferreras