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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Will More Money Mean More Problems For The Puerto Rico Olympic Committee?
By Gabrielle Paese
March 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
There was surprisingly little squabbling Wednesday night over how the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee (PROC) would spend its newly acquired millions as its member federations voted 27-1 to approve the 2002 budget of more than $4 million.
With nearly $3 million more than it had two years ago, the only minor quibbling was over who should get how much.
While PROC president Héctor Cardona contends that the money -- or at least the $3.3 million in public funds -- will go to the 33 sports federations and their athletes -- his detractors claim that too much of the budget is getting tucked into administrative pockets and may slip away unnoticed.
Two federation presidents, Badminton's Héctor Collazo and Track and Field's José Enrique Arrarás, appealed unsuccessfully Wednesday night to put nearly half a million dollars more in the hands of the federations. Those same federation presidents, however, voted the measure down, preferring instead to let Cardona determine who is the neediest.
But will doubling the PROC budget guarantee Puerto Rico the Olympic medals and world-class athletes it so desperately seeks? Or will more money mean more problems?
Secondly, will the extra $2 million actually trickle down to the athletes or did the federation members leave the wolf to guard the sheep?
In Puerto Rican sports, there are no pat answers to explain why this tiny island exports some of the world's best baseball players and boxers but can't capitalize on its athletic talents in other sports.
Yet some of the cards are on the table.
1. Show me the money
Former PROC president Germán Rieckehoff set a neat precedent for partial disclosure within the PROC. No one actually has any proof that PROC funds are being misspent, yet everyone knows the athletes never have enough money to reach their dreams. The fact is, it's hard to quantify exactly where the PROC's dollars go.
The PROC is only responsible for reporting how its tax dollars are spent. It is not obligated to reveal to the legislature how much it rakes in in private sponsorship -- nor how those private dollars are spent. Call this the Switzerland clause and chalk it up to Rieckehoff again, who successfully persuaded the government to give the PROC sports "autonomy."
Nor does the PROC divide neatly along the party lines of traditional local politics. NPP and PDP supporters alike may disagree over PROC spending. In general, the smaller sports federations tend to ally with a federation superpower in what more closely resembles the United Nations.
2. More money, more problems
A solid home is build on a strong foundation. Most major league players got to the big show by following a well-worn path from Little Leagues to the farm system to the big leagues. Aside from baseball, which is well structured in Puerto Rico, many of the PROC's other 32 sports lack tot-to-teens programming.
A talented youngster may get caught in the net or may just as easily slip through a hole. Sports competitions in Puerto Rico are a mishmash of private school, private club, federation-backed and municipality-run activities -- with an occasional public school championship thrown in for good measure.
If an athlete actually makes it to the international level, it is often in spite of his federation rather than because of it. A current case in point is swimmer Ricky Busquets, who earned his University of Tennessee sports scholarship on his own merits.
What's the answer to the PROC riddle? Ask 20 different sports lovers and you're likely to get 20 different responses. Some athletes, such as tennis star Gigi Fernández (U.S. Olympic gold, Barcelona 1992) and diver Mark Ruiz (2000 U.S. Olympian) opted to steer clear of Puerto Rico sports politics.
The bottom line is this: As long as there is a game to be played, someone in Puerto Rico will be arguing over who gets to be on the team.
The PROC voted overwhelmingly to give its own winter sports federation the boot after the federation included an ineligible athlete, Mike González, on its two-man bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Meanwhile, the PROC voted 16-13 to give shotputter Christopher Merced a second chance at competition after Merced allegedly falsified documents related to a 1999 positive drug test.
Merced will be cleared to compete again this summer, after having served two years of the three-year sentence.
The change of heart means Merced, whose best throw is 66 feet, 4 inches, will be eligible to represent Puerto Rico in time for the November Central American-Caribbean Games in El Salvador.
Félix "Tito" Trinidad is back in the gym preparing for his May 11 comeback versus journeyman Hacine Cherifi at San Juan's Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
Trinidad will be fighting in Puerto Rico for the first time in four years. Trinidad's manager Don King is still finalizing the HBO pay-per-view deal, but locally Angelo Medina promotions and the City of San Juan are putting on the show. May is going to be a busy month for both Medina and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini as they are also hosting the Miss Universe pageant May 29 at the Coliseum.
Trinidad has not fought since last September when he was knocked out in the 12th round by Philadelphia fighter Bernard Hopkins, in the middleweight unification championship.
Before being knocked out by Hopkins, Trinidad had won his first 40 fights and championships in three weight classes.
Trinidad, a former welterweight and super welterweight champion, was fighting as a middleweight for the only second time when he lost to Hopkins. He won the World Boxing Association middleweight title by stopping William Joppy in the fifth round May 12 last year in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, welterweight Daniel Santos (24-2-1-1, 19 Kos), fights Yory Boy Campas March 16 in Las Vegas for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the most recent recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.