By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE planned return to training of national athletes vying for a spot in the rescheduled Olympic Games at the weekend did not push through and instead was delayed by a week, but the Philippine Sports Commission’s (PSC) reminder on safety stays.
In a virtual orientation last week, the PSC reiterated that while the return to training of the athletes is very important with less than 200 days to go before the sporting spectacle to be held in Tokyo and final qualifiers for it just around the corner, such should not be done at the expense of proper health and safety protocols.
“We called for this meeting to emphasize the safety protocols you will be needing for this Olympic training bubble. I am confident that we can all adjust to this, but know that your safety is paramount to the PSC,” PSC Commissioner Ramón S. Fernández told athletes and coaches during the orientation on Jan. 6.
Mr. Fernandez was joined by other sports officials in the meeting, including Olympic chef de mission Mariano V. Araneta Jr. who added, “I just want to reiterate that your safety is paramount in this bubble training. I wish all of you the best for your qualifiers, so that we can bring more glory to Philippine sports.”
Some 46 athletes and coaches from the boxing, taekwondo, and karate national teams are expected to enter the training “bubble” at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna, on Jan. 15 to resume face-to-face training after months of settling for virtual and individual workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The training resumption, which was originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 9, is geared towards helping Filipino athletes contend for a spot for the Tokyo Olympics happening from July 23 to Aug. 8.
In the months leading up to the Games, a number of qualifiers are lined up where sports officials hope the country’s athletes will perform well.
The Philippines is targeting to send at least 15 athletes to the pandemic-hit Olympics.
To preserve the integrity of the bubble at INSPIRE, which will be the home of the athletes for the next couple of months, and guard against the spread of the coronavirus, the PSC crafted a set of health and safety protocols to follow.
The agency’s Medical Scientific Athletes Services (MSAS) Unit led in crafting the protocols, which took into consideration already-established measures by the World Health Organization, Department of Health, and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
“We have to be extra careful in that. If we don’t have the proper protocols, it will be useless because, eventually, we will have to put a stop to it,” said PSC Chairman William Ramirez of the protocols they have crafted.
On top of the protocols is the formation of an expert group among stakeholders to aid in the interpretation and give advice on any unusual and expected results of coronavirus tests.
“Athletes will undergo a series of RT-PCR testing. Prior to entry, upon entry, and several testing during the bubble training,” said MSAS Head Dr. Randy Molo.
He went on to advise participants to restrict movement 14 days before entry, and restricted interactions seven days prior to their entry in the bubble facility.
“From today (Jan. 6), everyone must reconsider all the places and people they will be interacting with,” Dr. Molo said.
Philippine Sports Institute National Training Director Marc Velasco said that the MSAS Medical Unit, Rehabilitation Unit, Strength and Conditioning Unit, Sport Massage Unit, Sports Physiology, Sports Nutrition and Sports Psychology Unit will be available to serve the Olympic hopefuls via live and virtual consultations.
The boxing team is set to first arrive at the facility on Jan. 15, to be followed by the taekwondo and karate teams on Jan. 16 and 17, respectively.
Top boxing bets Irish Magno, who already qualified for the Tokyo Games, and Nesthy Petecio lead the national boxers in the bubble, to be joined by the likes of Carlo Paalam, Ian Clark Bautista, Riza Pasuit, Charly Suarez, James Palicte, and Rogen Ladon.
Another boxer, Eumir Felix Marcial, who has also qualified for the Olympics, is currently in the United States training at the Wild Card Gym as he is also a professional fighter under Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions.
But the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines is hoping he could join the team in the bubble training at some point to fortify their push.
The taekwondo team, meanwhile, is to bring in 2016 Rio Olympian Elaine Alora, Kurt Barbosa, Arven Alcantara, Butch Morrison, and Pauline Lopez. It is eyeing to be ready come the Asian qualifiers in April in Jordan.
Karate, for its part, will have Jamie Lim, Sharief Afif, Alwyn Batican, and Ivan Agustin, to be joined later by Junna Tsukii and Joan Orbon, who are both coming from abroad.
The IATF-EID gave its go signal for the national athletes to return to training on Dec. 15.
Incidentally, also training right now at INSPIRE is the national men’s basketball team.
Gilas Pilipinas began its month-long bubble training on Sunday in preparation for the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers set for February.