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On the rise: Wrestling in the Philippines

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Monday, 20 July 2015 - Last Updated on July 19, 2015
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Sydney Tancontian
by Karlo Silverio Sevilla

While still far from world-class, the sport of Olympic-style wrestling in the Philippines has been on a steady climb in recent years.

Recently, the Team Philippines wrestling team took home four gold, seven silver, and two bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Wrestling Championships in Singapore.  (The championships were “only” held simultaneously with the 28th Southeast Asian Games last June; it was not an event of the games as the host country had the option to choose which sports to include officially. We can conclude that with that arbitrary policy, Team Philippines “lost” a 13-medal haul in the last SEA Games.)

At the grassroots, Philippine wrestling scored a major breakthrough when it debuted last year as a featured sport of the country’s biggest and most prestigious multi-sport event for the youth organized by the Department of Education (DepEd) —  the Palarong Pambansa. With the conclusion of this year’s Palarong Pambansa, a total of 10 of the country’s 17 regions were represented by wrestling teams composed of athletes in the high school level.

Jason Balabal

With some of the country’s top wrestlers already asserting their supremacy in the Southeast Asian region, buffered by an exponentially growing grassroots pool courtesy of the sport’s inclusion in the Palarong Pambansa, the Philippine wrestling community is now confident that it is on track to making its mark at the Asian and world level.

The country has consistently fielded wrestlers to the Summer Olympics since the early part of the 20th century until the 1988 Seoul Games, when being a country’s best wrestler (in a style and weight class) sufficed to qualify to the Games. Hence, continental and world Olympic qualifiers were established and a Filipino wrestler has not set foot on an Olympic mat ever since. (To qualify, a wrestler has to be approximately among the top 20 in the world in his weight class in either freestyle of Greco-Roman, for the men, and only in freestyle for the women.)

After almost three decades, Philippine wrestling is raring to end the Olympic exclusion and is hoping to qualify at least one contender to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Just the same, the Philippine wrestling team will soon start sending its athletes to the Olympic qualifying tournaments for the 2016 Games in Brazil – they just might make it!

Philippine wrestling organizations

Unfortunately, Philippine wrestling – just like the situation of Philippine sports in general – is not immune from divisive politicking. Currently, the Philippine wrestling movement is largely decentralized: different organizations at the national and regional levels are functioning independently; though, at times, interdependently through individuals. But as mentioned, the results of their not-so-concentrated efforts have been largely positive: from the grassroots to the elite levels. And, these organizations are more than willing to welcome new members and supporters.

Here are the country’s main wrestling organizations:

  1. Wrestling Association of the Philippines (WAP)

The national sports association (NSA) duly-recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and officially supported by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), the main task of the Wrestling Association of the Philippines (WAP) is to train and field the Team Philippines wrestlers to “traditional” international multi-sport competitions like the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, and the Olympic Games. The WAP is also required by its international federation, the United World Wrestling (UWW), to participate in continental (Asian) and world-level competitions, like the Olympic qualifiers.

The WAP runs the wrestling events of the Philippine National Games (PNG) and the Batang Pinoy games of the PSC. The PNG is an elite-level competition which also serves as national tryouts for prospective new members of Team Philippines. On the other hand, Batang Pinoy is a grassroots competition for athletes 15 years old and younger – the ultimate goal of which is to find talents to send to the Youth Olympics.

To join and get a chance to train with its accredited clubs, visit the WAP office at the National Wrestling Gym, Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila or visit their Facebook page for more information.

Contact: Tel No. 808-6771 or e-mail at philippineswrestling@gmail.com.

DepEd Wrestling Association

The DepEd Wrestling Association (DiWA) is a newly-formed national organization exclusively for elementary and high school teachers who have been involved or are interested in promoting wrestling in their respective schools for Palarong Pambansa competition. Organized immediately after the staging of the 2015 Palarong Pambansa last May in Tagum City, this young organization is composed of teachers who serve as coaches and technical officials for wrestling since the sport’s debut in the national games last year in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. Elected as its first-ever president is Mandaluyong City public school PE teacher Gemma Silverio – a former world wrestling silver medalist and two-time SEA Games gold medalist.

Recently-retired Filipino-American UFC fighter and world-class wrestler Mark Muñoz has confirmed with this writer his plan of holding wrestling clinics for teachers and young student athletes through DiWA before the year ends.

Contact: Gemma Silverio at 0923-8937806.

  1. FESSAP Wrestling Club

The Federation of School Sports Associations of the Philippines (FESSAP) Wrestling Club is a new and fast-growing national organization which aims to establish wrestling programs at the collegiate level – with universities as priority. According to its official Facebook page, “The FESSAP Wrestling Club — under its umbrella group Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP) — is the Philippine national sports association responsible in selecting, training and fielding university-based student wrestlers to the World University Wrestling Championships and the Universiade organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU).”

The current leaders of the FESSAP Wrestling Club are the prime movers behind the popular Takedown Challenge: the series of recreational wrestling competitions held in Metro Manila for novice wrestlers, grapplers, and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters.

Individual college-level athletes, coaches, and sports leaders who want to be part of the FESSAP Wrestling Club may inquire thru this e-mail address.

Supporting wrestling associations in CAR and Bicol

Individuals and organizations are welcome to join and support these two active regional wrestling associations, both of which have successfully managed their respective qualifiers for the Palarong Pambansa:

Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Wrestling Association

Contact: Baguio City Wrestling Club, Ma. Teresa Asuncion 0905-1653659

Bicol Wrestling Association

Contact: Lipata Fight Club, Coaches Nathaniel and Emily Lipata 0927-4220215

Currently, the top regions in wrestling (in no particular order), based on results in the Palarong Pambansa, PNG, and Batang Pinoy competitions are CAR, NCR, Davao del Norte, CALABARZON, and Zamboanga Peninsula. This is also reflected in the composition of the top Team Philippines wrestlers who have been making waves at the Southeast Asian level. For the men, they are Jason Balabal of Ifugao, Jason Baucas of Baguio City, Alvin Lobreguito of Quezon City, Ronil Tubog of Taytay, and Jhonny Morte of Zamboanga City. On the distaff side, it’s Minalyn Foy-os and Rosegyn Malabja of Baguio City, Sydney Tancontian of Davao City, and Kristine Jambora of Taytay among others.

There is no reason for the other regions not to catch up in this sport. And, raising the competitiveness of wrestlers all over the Philippines will require massive recruitment of young athletes, sports leaders, and well-meaning and supporters alike. A critical mass of athletes and able coaches is a most basic and important requirement from which future elite wrestlers – and all athletes, in general — can be produced and recruited. With a competent and sufficient support system from both the public and private sectors, participation and excellence in the Olympics will surely follow.

Disclosure: The writer is currently director of the FESSAP Wrestling Club and formerly secretary general of the Wrestling Association of the Philippines. ###


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