There are many ways to skin a cat, and Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino is keen on creatively overcoming the "handicapping" system Cambodia has employed in the staging of the 32nd Vietnam Southeast Asian Games next year.
Tolentino said that one means is trying to beat the Cambodian hosts at their own game by fielding the country's national athletes in all of the 49 sports and 608 events in the regional sportsfest slated from May 5 to 16, 2023 in the capital of Phnom Penh and the northwestern city of Siem Reap.
"Because of the way Cambodia 'handicapped' the other participating countries, we urged our national sports associations to field their best athletes to the most events possible to the 32nd SEA Games," said Tolentino Wednesday after POC general assembly meeting held at an upscale Chinese restaurant in Paranaque.
During the meeting, the appointments of baseball chief Chito Loyzaga as the national team chef de mission as well as his deputies — sambo head Paolo Tancontian, and national dragon-boat and canoe-kayak coach Lenlen Escollante — were unanimously approved by the general assembly.
In some unfamiliar sports to Filipino athletes, Loyzaga said another way was "borrow" performers from others whose disciplines are close or similar to those that will form the 32nd SEA Games roster.
Loyzaga cited the example of fin swimming, which will have 24 gold medals up for grabs in the regional sports showcase.
"Perhaps we may ask some of our national swimmers to be available to compete in fin swimming to boost our campaign in Cambodia," he said.
He added the same could be applied to the Cambodian native martial art of kun bokator, with 21 gold medals at stake, that apparently is a combination of both muay thai and kick boxing.
"I recall that some of our kickboxing athletes were also fielded in the Vietnamese combat sport of vovinam in the last SEA Games so we can also adapt the same thing with kun bokator by introducing and training them to the techniques and rules of the sport while there is still time," Tolentino chimed in.
Without his intervention the most recent SEA Games Federation meeting, he reiterated that The World Games champion Junna Tsukii would not have competed in Cambodia since the host had initially deleted the women's 50-kg. division in kumite (sparring) of karate.
"Tsukii's achievement at The World Games was not only a Philippine achievement but for the entire Southeast Asia," Tolentino noted. "I expect her to be treated like a rock star by all the sports fans in the Cambodia SEA Games just like our own billiards icon Efren "Bata" Reyes was mobbed in the last Vietnam Games."
In the newest wrinkle, the POC chief revealed not only did the Cambodian organizers limit the participation of other countries to 70 percent of the events in combat sports but also restricted them to 66 percent in the other disciplines.
Tolentino cited to what Cambodia did in esports or video games.
"So in esports (video games), we are only limited to five of the nine events that will held in Cambodia," he said ", and they get to choose what events we will play."
By competing in a majority of events, the top POC official was optimistic that the country's drive in Cambodia would not take a nosedive after finishing fourth overall in the previous Vietnames SEAG with a haul of 52 gold, 70 silver and 105 bronze medals.
He said that the POC will have a face-to-face meetings soon with the NSA leaders to finalize the number of athletes who will compose Team Philippines in Cambodia, which is hosting the meet for the first time.
Tolentino said the Philippine delegation will likely exceed the 658 athletes that saw action in 38 sports in the Vietnam Games, but was hopeful that the Philippine Sports Commission now headed by chairperson Noli Eala would be able to bankroll its participation in the Cambodia meet.
Loyzaga bared that the deadline for the entry by number set by Cambodia for the 10 other participating countries was in December.
Tolentino could sympathize with the Cambodians in putting their best foot forward at home in their drive for gold but rued that "it seems that fair play and the ideals of Olympism have suffered in the process."