MANILA, May 27, (AFP): Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao said Friday he would skip the Rio Olympics even if professionals were allowed to compete, knocking out the Philippines’ best chance of winning its first gold medal.
Pacquiao, who was this month elected to his nation’s Senate and harbours dreams of becoming president, said he wanted to instead focus on his political career.
“I have decided to prioritise my legislative duty as I owe it to the people who voted for me,” the eight-time world champion and national hero said in a text message to AFP.
Pacquiao, 37, had previously said his victory over American Timothy Bradley last month would be the final fight of his career so he could pursue his political ambitions.
But Pacquiao never fully closed the door on his boxing career, saying he could be tempted out of retirement for a chance at Olympic glory in August or another mega-bucks fight against arch-rival Floyd Mayweather.
In a highly controversial move, the International Boxing Association proposed a few months ago allowing professional boxers to compete at the Rio Games, and will put it to a vote at its congress in Lausanne next week.
Pacquiao’s American promoter, Bob Arum, was among the many critics of the plan, saying putting amateurs into the ring against seasoned professionals would be “total madness”.
But in anticipation of a successful vote, the International Boxing Association had already invited Pacquiao.
Pacquiao did not wade into the controversy on Friday, saying only he wanted to be prepared for his new job as a senator starting on June 30.
“So I believe I don’t have enough time to prepare (for the Olympics),” Pacquiao said.
The Philippines is an Olympics minnow, having only won nine bronze and silver medals since debuting at the 1924 Paris Games. Five of those medals were in boxing.
Pacquiao has never competed in the Olympics, although he was the country’s flag-bearer at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Pacquiao had told sporting officials he hoped to compete in Rio as a way of giving back to the Philippines, Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines executive director Ed Picson told AFP.
However, he may have been concerned about criticism over his poor attendance record in Congress, according to Picson. Pacquiao served two three-year stints as a congressman from 2010, but barely turned up to sessions as he pursued his boxing career.
“I expected he might have second thoughts because he received brickbats about being absent in Congress and that’s a fresh wound. It was used against him during the campaign and he’s probably still smarting about it,” Picson said.
Just 11 Filipino athletes have so far qualified for Rio, two of whom are boxers.