Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino expressed concern as the country’s preparations for the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi got affected by the present coronavirus situation.
Plans of sending national athletes back to training for the regional meet in May got pushed back as Metro Manila got placed under Alert Level 3 due to the alarming spike of COVID-19 cases that began before the New Year.
Contact sports aren’t allowed under the said quarantine status, which could possibly escalate to Level 4 as the surge continues. The Department of Health on Saturday reported a record-high 26,458 COVID-19 cases.
“Tinamaan lang tayo dahil sa Level 3, walang contact sports,” the Deputy Speaker told Radyo5’s Power and Play with Kom Noli Eala.
“Na-delay na naman ‘yung trainings, na-stop na naman ‘yung trainings unless nakahanap agad ng Level 2 areas na pwede mag-contact sports training.”
This is indeed a tough predicament for the Philippine delegation bound for the Vietnam tilt, which Tolentino described as an ‘uphill battle.’
For one, he’s wary of the threat imposed by the host nation. Looking back, the Vietnamese hauled the second-most medals in the Manila Games in 2019 with 288, behind the 387 collected by the Filipinos.
“Cinompute ko e, talagang uphill battle yan, ang SEA Games sa Vietnam. Last SEA Games overall champion tayo, pero nasa likod natin ang Vietnam.”
The Philippines bagged 149 gold medals, as Vietnam had 98. But that won’t be easy to replicate in Hanoi, said Tolentino, since several sports which the former ruled were removed from the list of competitions.
From 56, only 40 will be played this time around. Two new sports were included, namely bodybuilding and vovinam or Vietnamese martial arts.
“Lamang tayo ng  gold medals. Binawasan naman tayo. Inalis ‘yung arnis, inalis ‘yung obstacle sports. Ang laki na agad nun, kulang-kulang 20 na agad yun,” lamented the long-time sports figure.
“Nagbawas na, nagdagdag pa — nagdagdag ng vovinam, nagdagdag ng bodybuilding. Nasa 30 medals na agad ‘yun. So minus and plus. Hindi ko alam paano hahabulin yun,” he added with a chuckle.
“So uphill battle talaga.”
But amidst the clouds of uncertainties, there remains a silver lining which Tolentino is looking at: Athletes being more equipped against the virus.
The 58-year-old expressed gratitude to the MVP Sports Foundation, led by President Al Panlilio, for donating 500 booster shots of the Moderna vaccine for members of the national team set to see action in the biennial meet.
“Malaking tulong po ‘yun sa mga atleta lalo na ‘yung booster shots courtesy of MVP Sports Foundation. ‘Yung mga ‘di pa nakaka-avail, ‘yun ‘yung big chance. Lalo na ngayon, ‘yung nag-surge, ang haba ng pila sa mga LGUs.”