By Michael Angelo S. MurilloReporter


Posted on July 26, 2016

GIVEN the current limitations of the government to mount a far-ranging national sports program, the need for patrons from the private sector could not be more underscored.

ADOPT-AN-OLYMPIAN PROGRAM FOUNDER Jim Lafferty (left) with Olympian Marestella Torres-Sunang (second from left) during the send-off for the latter at the Orchid Garden Suites in Manila. -- MIKE MURILLO
One of the people who have answered such a call is Jim Lafferty, chief executive officer of British American Tobacco (BAT), who founded the Adopt-An-Olympian program.

Formed in 2014, the Adopt-An-Olympian program was initially set up to help the country win its first Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics but is bent on taking it further to be a steady partner in Philippine sports development.

Under the program, the group provides cash investments -- through allowances, rents, training expenses and nutrition -- to athletes and gives a holistic training program which includes medical consults, body fat and physical testing, massage therapy, yoga and dietary supervision, among others.

Proponents said that program supplements what the athletes get from the Philippine Sports Commission, the Philippine Olympic Committee and the national sports associations.

Currently, athletes under it include long-jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang and trackster Eric Cray. The two athletes are going to compete in the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, next month in the women’s long jump and men’s 400-m hurdles, respectively.

“There are so many people [in the private sector] that when you talk to them they want to help the county. The issue is not the money,” said Mr. Lafferty in an interview with BusinessWorld in the recent send-off for Ms. Torres-Sunang and Mr. Cray as well as long-distance runner Mary Joy Tabal, who is to compete in the women’s marathon in the Olympics.

“The private sector is ready to step up. But it needs legitimate programs. Not just a program where it says ‘Give me money. You got the check so give me money.’ You cannot act like that because it is someone’s money. You have to do better than that. You have to show a detailed accounting of every penny that is given, where the money would go. You manage it like a real investment. It’s not church money, where you give and that’s it. It’s should be run like a business, investments with updates and reports,” added the BAT official, who said that he is doing it on a personal capacity and not a corporate effort.

Mr. Lafferty further emphasized that athletes -- and coaches -- taken under such program should show commitment and focus to entice more people and groups to be partners in sports development.

“If I’m an athlete and they sign me up with their money, I have to show commitment and that is the main concern. Do we have coaches that are willing to embrace a different approach than what they think is right?” said Mr. Lafferty, himself a former track star back in the United States.

Two years since the Adopt-An-Olympian program was established, Mr. Lafferty said that he is “completely satisfied” with the way things have panned out for it.

The fact that two of their athletes are now in the Olympics is a testament that their program is doing something right.

Also, they are happy to report that more people are involved with the program, including CEOs who are members of the Philippine chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) who have pooled their resources to support Filipino athletes under the Adopt-An-Olympian program.

Among them are Hans Sicat, CEO of Philippines Stock Exchange, Don Lee, CEO of Republic Cement, Albert Altura, CEO of SKI Construction, Anton Huang, CEO of Rustan’s Group, Arnold Co, CEO of a conglomerate of holdings, and “Bingo” Limcaoco, CEO of Rapide Auto and Hertz Rent-a-Car.

And the significance of such support is not lost to members of the sporting community.

“We’re happy that more private citizens and companies are getting involved in our national athletics program,” said Philip Ella Juico, president of the Philippine Athletics Track And Field Association (PATAFA), one of the partner NSAs of the Adopt-An-Olympian program.

Seeing how the program is making great strides, Mr. Lafferty said their group is determined to sustain the momentum it has built by “smartly” adding more athletes in its stable.

“We are looking at adding on athletes, of course, but for us to succeed they must be absolutely focused and committed. For us, it’s not the quantity but the quality,” he said.