MANILA, Philippines – Bosses of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) say they have learned some lessons from their experience in the 2012 Olympic Games in London which will help in their preparation for the Rio Games in 2016.
Speaking with Joaquin Henson of the Philippine Star, ABAP president Ricky Vargas and secretary-general Patrick Gregorio identified three key issues that hampered the Philippines’ performance in the London Games.
“In our first Olympic experience, we found out how difficult it is to qualify for the Olympics and how even more difficult it is to win a medal,” Gregorio told Henson. “If we qualify more fighters, we have more chances to win a medal.”
“So quantity is vital. In London, we qualified only one fighter. And in Beijing four years ago, we also qualified just one,” he added.
Light-flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga was the lone Filipino to compete in the Olympics amateur boxing tournament, and he reached the round of 16 before bowing to Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov in a controversial bout.
In the 2008 Games, Harry Tañamor lost in his opening bout.
“In weighing probabilities to win a medal, we need more fighters to qualify,” Gregorio emphasized. “I still believe that boxing is the sport where we can win an Olympic gold medal.”
Gregorio said thay also learned “how important it is to relate closely with AIBA officials.”
ABAP had filed an official protest with AIBA, the governing body of amateur boxing, regarding Barriga’s controversial loss. However, AIBA decided to junk the protest without reviewing the video of the match.
“In London, we took a stand in protesting Mark’s loss,” said Vargas. “Unfortunately, AIBA looked the other way. But we won’t lose our focus. We’ll persevere in our quest for that elusive Olympic gold medal.”
There also needs to be a better way of identifying young boys and girls who have the potential to be talented boxers.
“Our talent identification must consider where we can develop potential medalists in both men’s and women’s boxing,” Gregorio said, pointing out that no Filipina qualified for the women’s tournament.
“With three weight divisions in Olympic boxing for women, we should now look at developing fighters in the flyweight and lightweight classes. I think it’s 50-50 where our first Olympic gold medal will come from – men’s or women’s boxing,” he said.
Vargas added that there should also be more support for the up-and-coming boxers, not just the ones who have already won medals in international competitions.
He appealed to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to also support the young stars in the ABAP training pool.
“We realize there are financial constraints, and that is why the PSC is limiting itself to supporting athletes who have already taken medals in at least the Southeast Asian Games,” Vargas told Henson.
“But we can’t ignore the stars of the future. We need to support grassroots development, too. At ABAP, there are 30 to 40 boxers in our trianing pool, including about 10 women and six from our grassroots program,” he added.
“We receive support from the PSC in terms of allowances for our elite boxers, but none for our young up-and-coming stars like world junior champion Eumir Marcial.”
Vargas is also hoping to bring in a foreign coach to help the boxing program. One of the top candidates is Kevin Smith, who worked in Barriga’s corner with head coach Roel Velasco during the Games.
Vargas said Barriga is hoping to qualify in the 2016 Rio Olympics but is also looking forward to the next Southeast Asian Games.
"Right now, we're back to zero, meaning no boxer is automatically seeded to represent the country in international competitions," Vargas said.
"We're giving everyone a fighting chance to qualify for every competition, up to the world championships and the Olympics," he added.