Gentleman. Ultimate professional. Outstanding sports leader. Mentor. Very decent, deeply religious man.
These were some of the tributes to Celso “Cito” Dayrit on Thursday, after the former Philippine Olympic Committee president and Fencing Confederation of Asia president died late Wednesday night. He was 69.
The continental governing body for the sport led the way in recognizing the contributions of the sportsman, whose father, Don Francisco, was a local fencing pioneer and first president of what was known then as the Philippine Amateur Fencing Association in the 1930s.
“It is with deep sadness that we share the passing of an extraordinary leader and President of the Fencing Confederation of Asia, Celso L. Dayrit. He lived a life of faith, service and leadership,” the FCA said in a statement posted Thursday on its Facebook page.
“His untimely demise left a significant void in the FCA, which he served more than 15 years as president. His family requests for prayers in this difficult time.
On its website, the FCA released a separate statement, saying: “It is with sad and heavy heart that we announce the passing of our beloved FCA President Mr. Celso L. Dayrit - December 19, 1951 - April 29, 2021. We have lost a sports leader, a gentleman, a father to many, a brother, a dear friend and a mentor to many.”
Besides being the POC president, Dayrit would follow in his father’s footsteps, taking up the sport, playing for the country in international competitions, and becoming president of the renamed Philippine Fencing Association from 1997 to 2008. He was president of the local Olympic body from 1999 to 2004.
Past, present sports officials cite Dayrit
POC chairman Steve Hontiveros said he was fortunate to have texted Dayrit, a fellow La Sallian, on April 15 while he was hospitalized.
“I was surprised when he texted me back knowing his condition then,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, POC secretary-general during Dayrit’s term, said the last time Dayrit was during the Olympic Council of Asia general assembly in Muscat, Oman in December “and he looked hale and hearty,” so he was stunned over the news of his demise.
“He (Dayrit) was a true gentleman and outstanding sports leader. His passion for sports never faded. He and his wife Cindy were also deeply religious,” added the POC chairman, referring to his friend’s association with the Roman Catholic Couples for Christ fellowship.
POC president and Tagaytay Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and his immediate POC predecessor, boxing head Ricky Vargas, also took the death of Dayrit hard.
“He (Dayrit) was a big loss to us in the sports community and to me as well personally. He was one of my mentors. He was a big help to me in foreign relations, especially with the Southeast Asian Games Federation,” Tolentino said. “He always gave me sound advice. I will surely miss him.”
Vargas added: “I’m filled with immense sadness with Cito Dayrit’s passing. He was a friend and valued adviser. I relied on his professionalism, vast knowledge, experience and honest point of view . . . Philippine and international sports just suffered a devastating loss.”
Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez, the deputy chef de mission of the national team at the 1999 Brunei Southeast Asian Games in Dayrit’s first international stint as POC president, also expressed his grief.
“Philippine sports lost a wise man today. He is one of my very best friends in sports and I have always admired his deep understanding of Olympism and sports dynamics in the country,” Ramirez said.
“Cito’s death was so sudden and I’m sad. Cito’s contribution to Philippine sports was great in the realms of Olympism. Goodbye, my friend.”
Former POC first vice president Joey Romasanta, meanwhile, said: “Cito was an outstanding gentleman leader and a very decent guy . . . He was a standout during his time and well-respected by sports officials outside the country.”
Former POC chairman and fencing head Robert Aventajado added: “It was Cito who worked for the creation of the POC chairman, specifically for me to occupy which I did for eight years . . . He was a fine person and gentleman. Philippine sports lost a good leader.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Fencing brass pay tribute
Former national fencer and fencing chief Richard Gomez expressed his heartache at the loss of someone he looked up to as a mentor and father figure.
“I am deeply saddened to hear this. His (Dayrit’s) death is a great loss to our sport and painful to those who knew and loved him,” Gomez said. “He was my mentor both as a fencing athlete and president of the fencing NSA. Our condolences go to the Dayrit family.”
Ranking world technical fencing official and former national athlete Marilee Estampador said Dayrit’s death was “a big loss but also to the international fencing community. He was a dedicated leader and well-respected. He will definitely be missed.”
Tall, handsome and dashing like the swordsmen of yore, Dayrit, a former banker, likewise served as PSC commissioner in the early 1990s under the late PSC chairman Mel Lopez.
He was the mastermind behind the creation of the PSC’s Philippine National Games, the event that served as the spawning ground for national athletes with the participation and support of local government units.
As POC president, Dayrit launched the Olympic festival, a grassroots competition focused on Olympic disciplines for promising young athletes, which was supervised by Aventajado.
Dayrit was a much sought-after resource speaker of the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity program. In recognition as an experienced sports leader and educator, he was asked to help revise the IOC Sports Administration manual in 1999.
Not too many were aware that he was also a close associate of German IOC president Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencer.
Dayrit authored two sports-related books: “The Olympic Movement in the Philippines,” which was published in 2003 and “Wisdom of the Sword: Quotes and Aphorisms of Celso L. Dayrit.”
In one of his last contributions to local sports, Dayrit was the chairman of the Southeast Asian Games Federation in organizing the 30th Philippine SEA Games in 2019.