THE leadership of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) admitted that for the country to score gold in the 2012 London Olympics, the association needs to come up with a stronger talent identification program instead of relying mostly to the old hands of its veteran fighters.

This came after the ABAP announced the staging of the National Youth Invitational Boxing Championship in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, which is slated from January 25 to 29.

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Open to boxers Under 18 years old, both in the boys and girls divisions, the objective is to tap young boxers who can compete in two international tournaments this year.

Azerbaijan will host a Youth Olympics qualifying event in April where the winners earn slots in the 1st Youth Olympics in Singapore from August 14 to 26.

"We need to develop our young boxers to ensure fresh talents for the national team. I believe that this will be realized on this national event," said ABAP executive director Ed Picson in the weekly forum of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Tuesday.

ABAP has held four regional championships in 2009 -- Quezon province, Ormoc, Panabo City, and Mandaluyong City.

Analysts see amateur boxing as the best chance of ending RP's Olympic gold-medal drought after landing two silvers in past Games.

Anthony Villanueva and Bago City, Negros Occidental native Mansueto Velasco Jr. won silver medals in the 1964 Tokyo and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, respectively, for the country's highest finish ever in the quadrennial games.

Aside from the youth tournaments, the country is also preparing for the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China in November.

As an added motivation, ABAP chairman and telecommunication mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan has pledged earlier to give P3 million for each gold medal won by the local boxers. This is on top of the P2 million pledged by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

Men and lady boxers are equal

In a related development, Picson also corrected misconceptions that there is an inequality on the allocation of resources between men and women boxers, with the latter getting a "little share."

"Those insinuations are not true. We gave equal treatment on our men and lady boxers. As far as I am concerned, our women's boxing is even ahead of other Asian teams in terms of training," he said.

He added that recruiting potential lady boxers is definitely among the association's top priority in 2010.

Picson noted that the women's team currently has only 13 boxers in its pool, including the four ladies who saw action in the 25th Laos Southeast Asian Games.

In that meet, RP's 10-member boxing team won nine medals with Bill Vicera, Charly Suarez and lady boxers Alice Kate Aparri, Josie Gabuco, and Annie Albania each winning the gold.

He said the coaching staff of Boy Catolico and Barcelona Olympics bronze medalist Roel Velasco will personally travel around the Philippines to look for potential athletes.

But the boxing official cited the lack of international exposures for women's boxers and instead proposed a staging of a four-to-six nation invitational boxing tournament in the country set on July.

"We temporarily call it as MVP Cup, in honor of Mr. Pangilinan, whose birthday falls on July 14. The tournament would be a good exposure for our boxing teams," Picson said, adding that the association is still in scout of international competitions to join in the run-up to the Asian Games.

"It's really hard to forecast in amateur boxing. In a setting where you only know your opponent a day before the competition is really hard. Compare it to professional boxing wherein you can strategize and closely study your opponent. But anyway, we just have to make sure that our boxers are properly trained and equipped to enter the ring of any international tournament," added Picson.

Boxing in UAAP?

To further popularize boxing among the young set, Picson said he is still hoping that the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) will make boxing as a demonstration sport in the league in the near future.

He said he offered it to current UAAP president Anton Montinola of Far Eastern University (FEU) when they graced the PSA Forum last July 2009.

"I feel this will foster not only fierce but also a friendly competition," said Picson.

UAAP rules state that the proposal should get the nod of four of the eight participating schools to make boxing a demonstration sport.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has already announced its intention of including boxing and two other disciplines as demonstration sports for this season. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)