MANILA, Philippines -- Ramon Fernandez, the newly-appointed chef de mission to the 2021 Southeast Asian Games, vowed to do his best to work around the pandemic as Filipino athletes gear up to defend their crown in the regional event.
Team Philippines dominated the 2019 edition of the SEA Games at home, winning a record 149 gold medals to secure the overall championship for the first time in 14 years.
Repeating that feat appears to be a tall task, however, as the Philippines is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes have been restricted from training in person for several months, although members of the karate, boxing, and taekwondo teams are set to enter the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna for a camp this weekend.
"It's still touch and go at this moment," Fernandez said of the preparations for the SEA Games during an appearance on "Usapang Sports on Air" on Thursday.
"I really feel that without the vaccine, it's pretty hard to prepare our athletes the normal way of preparing them for such a big international competition," he explained.
"But we will do our best," Fernandez promised.
Fernandez stressed that preparation will be the key to Filipino athletes' success in the 2021 SEA Games, which is scheduled for November 21 to December 2 in Hanoi, Vietnam. He pointed out that ahead of the 2019 edition of the event, several members of Team Philippines were able to train and compete abroad to gear up for the SEA Games.
Doing so would be "doubly or even triply hard" this year, Fernandez admitted. Overseas travel remains restricted, especially with a more infectious variant of COVID-19 being reported.
"But we will be working closely with the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) and the DOH (Department of Health) and the other agencies on hand, trying to control this pandemic," he said.
"We'll do our best, we'll adjust to the situation," Fernandez added. "But the key is the vaccine."
According to Fernandez, PSC chairman William "Butch" Ramirez is working with the relevant agencies to ensure that Filipino athletes will be among those prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Once vaccinated, Fernandez is confident that Team Philippines can prepare in a more "normal" way, rather than settling for the virtual sessions that they have been doing for most of 2020.
Fernandez will meet with the leadership of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) at the end of the month to map the pathway to the 2021 SEA Games.
"We will take everything into consideration, just to prepare these athletes for the SEA Games. That's really going to be the key," he said. "No matter what it takes, we'll try our best."
"We'll work around COVID. I'm hoping na magkaroon na ng vaccine in May or June man lang, ma-prioritize natin ang mga atleta so they can go back to their normal training in preparation for the SEA Games," he said.
Fernandez, also a commissioner with the PSC, is banking on the lessons he has learned from Ramirez who was the chef de mission to the 2019 SEA Games.
"It's going to be a challenging mission, considering that champion tayo the last time," he said.
"But this is about the athletes. Games like this are all about the athletes. It's not about the officials who's running them," he stressed. "If we come together and support our athletes, I think we will also give a good performance in the coming SEA Games."