IN SEARCH OF CHAMPIONS

Good heart and generosity fuel  the Philippines' taekwondo drive
Julius Manicad
Assistant Sports Editor
The Daily Tribune

In a dark corner of the historic Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, a small office with an old door with a rusty knob hides a sportsman's paradise.

It's the Central Taekwondo Headquarters with its gleaming collection of trophies, medals and plaques of recognition. 

On its walls, various awards join framed photographs of top athletes and distinguished alumni who made it big in various fields ranging from sports, business, politics and even the entertainment industry.

But there is one plaque that shines most in this well-decorated Wall of Fame at the office of the Philippine Taekwondo Association (PTA).

It's in the office of PTA chief executive officer Sun Chong Hong --  father of Philippine taekwondo.

“The MVP Sports Foundation sponsors around 40 percent of the total budget of our association,” said Hong as he threw a look at the plaque of special recognition given by the MVPSF to the federation.

“MVP Sports Foundation (MVPSF) sponsors more on the developmental side, like in cadets, juniors and future Olympians. That generates a lot of chance for a lot of young children to be involved in us. So, right now our national cadet and juniors team is composed of around 100 athletes who participate in a lot of tournaments. Like this year, we had the World Cadet Championship and next year the Asian Juniors Championship.”

Vince Santos, program director of MVPSF, said they didn’t hesitate to support taekwondo because it is ably managed under the leadership of Hong, secretary-general Monsour del Rosario and deputy secretary Stephen Fernandez, both members of the national team that saw action in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“We are sponsoring the program of the Philippine taekwondo federation, especially those for the cadet and junior members of the national team,” Santos said. “It was a no-brainer since we know PTA as a disciplined and well-run NSA, with a good potential of winning an Olympic medal. It needs all the support it can get.”

True enough, the financial support of MVPSF is the oil that lubricates the PTA engine.

Involvement by the MVPSF came around five to six years ago when it bankrolled the federation’s cadet and junior national team programs, including the staging of local tournaments, as well as foreign competitions like the continental and world tournaments.

 

               Creating champions

 

PTA’s national training director Igor Mella revealed that though MVPSF’s solid support, they were able to turn the likes John Paul Lizardo, Pauline Lopez, Aaron Agojo, Christian Al Dela Cruz, Samuel Morrison and Elaine Alora from junior players to world-class talents.

Alora campaigned in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year while Lopez, Morrison, Dela Cruz, and Agojo are now being groomed for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

The MVPSF also supported the bids of two-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Rani Anne Ortega, Janie Lagman and Camille Alarilla in the women’s poomsae, as well as Dustin Mella, Rafael Enrico Mella and Rodolfo Enriquez, who won the gold medal in the 2013 and 2015 SEA Games as well as the silver in the world championship in men’s poomsae.

And just last October, the Philippine contingent took home three gold and five bronze medals from the prestigious 10th World Poomsae Taekwondo Championship in Lima, Peru.

Jeordan Dominguez sparked the golden haul by dominating the freestyle poomsae individual male over 17 competition while Ernesto Guzman Jr. bagged the gold medal in the men’s poomsae individual and under 40, before sharing the limelight with Jean Pierre Sabido and Glenn Lava in the team category.

The Philippines finished a high sixth out of 55 competing countries.

“These are the young athletes who are being supported by MVPSF,” said Mella. “They are already winning in major international tournaments and we are grooming them to compete in the Olympics in the future. The MVP Sports Foundation helps us develop future Olympians, future champions.”

A month later, a 15-year old Grade 10 student from Caloocan in Abigail Faye Valdez brought home the bronze medal from the World Junior Taekwondo Championship in Burnaby, Canada.

Carrying the colors of Meralco-MVPSF, Valdez overpowered her rivals from Sweden and Iran before falling to a Vietnamese fighter to settle for the bronze.

On the other hand, compatriots Beatrice Kassandra Gaerlan and Harvey Vincent Santos reached the quarterfinals in the prestigious tournament that drew 1,200 jins from 120 countries.

“I told them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of as all of the opponents you beat came from Europe, from first-world countries with a lot of money for support,” said del Rosario, who headed the 15-man squad together with national coaches Dindo Simpao and Napoleon Dagdagan.

“That’s why we’re very thankful to MVP Sports Foundation for not giving up on our national athletes. They help these kids set their goals and achieve dreams of becoming world-class players and better persons.”

Mella added that with the support of MVPSF, it is easier to map out their plans and programs that would pave the way for the country to win its first Olympic gold medal.”

“With the help of MVP Sports Foundation, funding our training and participation for this kind of tournament has never been a problem. We now have the flexibility to identify and calendar the important tournaments and prepare our athletes to win medals,” Mella said, adding that they now have the luxury of sending their developing players for exposures.

“With the fund we have, courtesy of MVP Sports Foundation, we are now able to send bigger delegation and provide exposure for our young and developing athletes. At least there’s continuity in our program.”

 

                 Not through luck but hard work

 

But securing the support of arguably the country’s most generous sports patron, through the MVPSF, did not come  by mere stroke of luck.

It was the result of hard work and determination to come up with a solid sport program.

Del Rosario, now a Makati congressman who served as the face of the sport when it boomed in the mid-1990's, said they used to compete with worn-out competition uniforms and empty stomachs. They had to contribute or hunt for sponsors who can provide them with extra money that tided them over when they competed overseas.

From those days, there are around 20,000 active practitioners around the nation presently. 

“I envy this generation of taekwondo jins,” he said. “During our time, we didn’t have anything. Sure, we were popular. We were being mentioned in the newspapers and television. But still, at the end of the day, we don’t have money. What we have was just a meager allowance for our food and transportation.”

“That’s why these kids should take advantage of the generosity of their patron in the MVP Sports Foundation. They don’t have to worry about funding their training and competition anymore. All they have to do is to train hard and make the country proud.”

And soon, Del Rosario said, the future jins would look back to them in the manner they view other prominent personalities who have played the sport, like Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Grace Poe and Miguel Zubiri, as well as Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) second vice-president Jeff Tamayo, who also used to campaign for the national team.

Hong said their no-nonsense programs and ability to liquidate the fund entrusted to them are the primary for the MVPSF's support to them.

At first, it was Smart Sports which backed the PTA's programs. And then the MVPSF came and generously financed their plans and programs, especially in the grassroots level, leading to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

And the PTA made sure to deliver.

As a testament to its solid program, the federation managed to amass 37 gold, 30 silver and 47 bronze medals in the year 2012, including 26 gold mints in the World Culture Taekwondo Culture Expo in Muju, South Korea.

In 2013, the national jins finished with 53 gold, 54 silver and 57 bronze medals, 29 of which coming from World Culture Taekwondo Culture Expo while 12 more were harvested from the 11th Asian Taekwondo Championship.

The following year, they produced 45 gold, 36 silver and 29 bronze medals with 32 mints coming from the World Culture Taekwondo Culture Expo.

In 2015, they had 38 gold, 42 silver and 44 bronze medals with the bulk (21) coming from the ATF Taekwondo Championships in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. They also won three gold medals in the Asia Pacific Taekwondo Championship held in Iloilo City.

This year, they had a total of 33 gold, 28 silver and 39 bronze medals. The World Culture Taekwondo Culture Expo in Jeonju City, South Korea remained as their gold mine as they plucked 24 gold medals while they successfully hosted the Olympic qualifying tournament where Alora formally punched a slot in the Rio Olympics.

“This is why the MVP Sports Foundation never gets tired of supporting taekwondo. We deliver results,” said Hong, adding that they have already made the final selection for the cadet, juniors and elite members of the national team for their program in 2017.

“Every year, we liquidate. We show them how we spent the money and what achievements we had using their money. But this year, they ask us to submit financial reports every quarter.”

“Every time we go out of the country, we always tell them (athletes and coaches) that 'whatever you spent, you liquidate. We’re very strict on that. Even one centavo, we make sure to liquidate.'”

Hong added that working with MVPSF is similar to working with the PSC and its rules and regulations on acounting to the MVPSF financial assistance.

“For us, there's no problem with it. Ever since we started, we don’t have any pending unliquidated expenses from the PSC. We’re clean. Everything has been settled. We make sure of that.”

“More than the financial support, it is the moral values of the athletes which the MVP Sports Foundation is taking care of,” he said. “These athletes know that MVP Sports Foundation is financing their activities. That’s why they develop into leaders, they cooperate with people and they carry the flag in international competitions. This is all part of what MVP Sports Foundation is doing for them. Their moral values mean a lot. It is human investment.”

“And when they grow up, they will remember MVP Sports Foundation as the one which molded them into what they are now. They may forget their coaches or their teammates, but they will never forget the program which helped them become what they are now.”

The MVP Group of Companies is reportedly including taekwondo in its list of sports to be played in the annual MVP Olympics in 2018. Among the sports being played in the prestigious tourney featuring 11 teams are basketball, volleyball, cheerdance, billiards, darts and chess.

Hong said if taekwondo would be included in the list of disciplines, it would be a big boost to the national team program as athletes are tipped to be recruited by giant companies under the MVP business umbrella like Meralco, Smart, PLDT, MediaQuest and Maynilad. 

“It’s an additional opportunity given to our players. That’s their payback to the company for being the recipients of support by the MVP Sports Foundation.”

“It all boils down to having a good and honest heart,” he said. “Any company can adopt a team or observe CSR (corporate social responsibility). But MVPSF is different. It’s helping the athletes, creating champions and developing champions from the bottom of its heart.”

“This organization touched a lot of lives. It is teaching coaches and officials to be responsible and molding young athletes to be responsible citizens of tomorrow. I hope the program further expands to be able to help a lot of young talents.”

Hong then glanced back at the plaque hanging on the wall.

There’s a reason why it is there.

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