Philippine Sports Commission chairman William “Butch” Ramirez said his office was ready to bring the locally based Olympic hopefuls and qualifiers back to the gym in a bubble environment at Inspire Academy in Calamba city, Laguna by January.
“The training is already set up. The negotiations with (the management) at Inspire is okay. We are just waiting for approval by the IATF,” Ramirez said in an interview from his PSC office at the PhilSports Complex in Pasig City.
He was referring to the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force in charge of the COVID-19 pandemic that approves all sports activities, including the resumption of training of national athletes that was halted since the country was locked down in mid-March due to the contagion.
“We are coordinating this endeavor with the Philippine Olympic Committee since they are actually the ones in charge of this. They are our partners,” Ramirez said.
The IATF together with the POC, the PSC and the Department of Health issued a Joint Administrative Order last July outlining the steps that allowed pro leagues such as the PBA, PFL and 3x3 Chooks to Go Basketball to resume training and actual competition under strict health and safety protocols.
This was supposed to include the country’s Olympic aspirants and qualifiers, among them boxer Irish Magno, to return to actual workouts but this somehow hit a few snags that it was only until this month that the training bubble was finalized, according to Ramirez.
Besides the national boxing team, other athletes expected to join the training bubble are those from taekwondo, karate and fencing, whose Olympic qualifiers were reset to next year before the Tokyo Olympic Games unfolds in late August 2021.
The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association, meanwhile, will have its national track and field team train its own bubble inside the New Clark City complex in Capas town, Tarlac in February before it holds the National Open at the NCC Athletic Stadium in March.
“This is why I have instructed PSC national training director Marc Velasco and our medical team to be very strict on the health and safety protocols inside the national training bubble,” Ramirez said.
“Because if just one participant gets infected, we will have to stop the training immediately.”
Ramirez said the government sports agency has also fulfilled its financial support to its three Olympic qualifiers training abroad -- pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, gymnast Carlos Edriel Yulo and boxer Felix Eumir Marcial -- as well as Rio Olympic silver medalist Hidylin Diaz, who has set up her training camp in Malaysia, and want to make a return trip to the Olympic Games.
The PSC chief was grateful that Congress came to the aid of the cash-strapped government agency, raising its budget from P200 million to about more than P900 million in the 2021 General Appropriations Act.
“This will be more than enough to sustain and fund our international commitments next year such as the Olympic Games, Southeast Asian Games and World Para Games, among others,” Ramirez said.
He added that this was more than adequate to offset the shortfall of the monthly remittances of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. to the PSC’s National Sports Development Fund that dwindled due to the closure of gambling operations in the country for several months due to the pandemic.
“We do not want to pressure our partners but it is a fact that our monthly remittances from PAGCOR was drastically slashed as gambling operations were drastically slashed,” Ramirez said, adding that this led to cutting the allowances of athletes and coaches in the national pool by half in July.
This was restored by the P178 million included the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act 2 through the lobbying efforts of former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Tagaytay Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who was recently reelected as Philippine Olympic Committee president.
PSC acting executive-director Atty. Guillemo Iroy said the PSC had disbursed the retroactive allowances and that the agency was now processing the COVID-19 allowance of P5,000 for the athletes and coaches that was also included in the Bayanihan 2 law.
This will benefit 993 athletes and 285 athletes in the regular national pool plus 251 para athletes and 76 para coaches, Iroy said.