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2021: Renewed hopes for Philippine sports

The new year does not only mean a fresh start, but it brings with it renewed energy and recalibrated goals for bigger and brighter things. This applies to sports as well.

After a protracted 2020 which saw the athletic calendar cut short, 2021 does not appear to be a back-to-normal year for sports just yet. There will, however, be more events lined up which will give our athletes more opportunities to become better and showcase themselves in the international stage. 

Here’s part 1 of what we hope to see this 2021 from some sports events where Filipino athletes prominently figure.

Karate

Karate will be making its debut in the Tokyo Olympics. It has not been included in the list of events for the 2024 Paris Olympics, though, so this year may really be the only chance we could see a karateka from the Philippines in the Olympics.

In Junna Tsukii, the Philippines has more than a fair chance of being represented in Tokyo. The Filipino-Japanese, currently ranked 10th in the world in the -50 kg women’s category, is looking at two possible routes to the Olympics. 

If Tsukii becomes the top-ranked Asian in her weight category, she will earn an automatic berth in the -55 kg category in women’s kumite. This entails doing consistently well in international competitions this year to further climb the rankings and emerge as the top karateka in the region. 

She could also make it to Tokyo by copping 1 of the 3 slots that will be offered in the final qualifying competition before the Olympics.

Either way, there is a sense that Tsukii will eventually earn her Olympic slot. She could very well be another potential medal contender for the country.

Lawn tennis

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) imposed last November a two-year suspension on the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) due to “long-standing governance failings” and “representation issues.” 

The country’s suspension will effectively disallow the Philippine team from competing in ITF-sanctioned tournaments, including the Davis Cup.

That the country has been sanctioned by the international governing body no longer came as a surprise. Philta has long been called out both by the ITF and local stakeholders of the sports for its “exclusive membership base,” which defies its mandate as a national sporting federation.

However, basing it on the statements of Philta’s top honchos, the federation appears more focused on deflecting blame for the suspension as it called out its detractors instead of reaching out to find solutions to the stalemate.

National athlete and former Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Treat Huey commented in an interview: “The athletes should not suffer because of the shortcomings of Philta which we have no control over.” 

We can only hope for genuine reforms in the local tennis landscape where the federation has long been treated by its own officials as their own fiefdom. 

Chess

There is no denying that the biggest name in all of Philippine chess is someone who, for the last 6 years, has not been carrying the country’s flag in the international arena. 

Wesley So won last October the US Open, the most prestigious chess tournament in the United States, the country he has been representing since 2014. 

A month later, So defeated current world champion Magnus Carlsen to bag the Skilling Open championship. So is currently ranked 9th in the FIDE world rankings. He is one of the top chess players in the world and is hands down the best chess player the Philippines has produced.

It is well-documented how So felt mistreated by the local top honcho of the sport, a rather familiar story in the Philippines, which triggered him to transfer to another chess federation.

So, though, has only switched chess federations and not citizenships. He still is a citizen of the Philippines. And that is why, year in and year out, Filipino fans continue to hope to see So back in the country’s fold. 

Amateur boxing

Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno have already punched their tickets to the Tokyo Olympics. The two are among the country’s best bets for podium finishes in the Olympics. 

But another bright hope of Philippine boxing is still bracing for the opportunity to finally earn for herself a slot in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Nesthy Petecio, the 2019 world champion, suffered a shocking loss in the Jordan Olympic qualifiers early 2020, but the defeat has fueled her hunger to become stronger, physically and mentally. 

“I have learned that I am resilient. I have conditioned my mind to think more confidently and positively and to tell myself that one of the slots in the next qualifiers will be mine,” she said in a previous interview with Rappler.

In AIBA rankings released September of 2020, Petecio was listed No. 2 in the women’s 57 kilogram division. She is the highest ranked boxer from the Philippines in the world rankings.  

It is only a matter of time before Petecio qualifies for the Olympics. She remains one of the country’s strongest contenders for a medal in Tokyo.

Volleyball

Since it might be too much to wish to have just one pro volleyball league in the Philippines, then small consolation for fans would be to see more Filipinos playing abroad as imports.

Jaja Santiago is on her third tour of duty in Japan with Ageo Medics, the team she led to a 3rd place finish the previous season. Elder sister Dindin Manabat played for Toray and Kurobe in Japan the past two seasons. Alyssa Valdez previously played in Taipei and Thailand.

In the men’s side, Mark Espejo has seen action as an import in 3 countries the past 3 years – Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in Japan, Visakha in Thailand, and Bani Jamra in Bahrain. Bryan Bagunas has also suited up for Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in the Japan V League.

With volleyball development in the country moving at a snail’s pace because of a lack of a unified program, the top Filipino players might be better off finding personal improvement when they play abroad. One can hope that more doors this year will be opened for Filipinos to strut their wares outside the country. – Rappler.com