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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Playing it fair and square

WE could be wrong, but we have always believed that the international sports organizations, especially FIBA which is the governing body for basketball and to a much-lesser extent AIBA, the governing body for boxing, which are both under the aegis of the International Olympic Committee, do us no favors other than sucker our country and our willing sports patrons into parting with hard-earned dollars in order to be able to host some of the major events such as the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which just concluded, as far as Filipino fans are concerned,  at the Mall of Asia Arena, where the country’s cherished dream of making it to the Rio Olympics ended in a nightmare.

Our basketball fans, without question the most passionate and knowledgeable in the world, responded to what our basketball leaders requested them to do by wearing white when Gilas Pilipinas played the mighty French team, ranked No. 5 in the world, and blue when we faced off against the Tall Blacks of New Zealand, ranked No. 21, seven slots ahead of Gilas.

We cannot understand and indeed refuse to accept the fact that FIBA gave absolutely no leeway to the local organizing body—the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas —to schedule the games for one thing which takes away any form of advantage that the hosts, who pay so much for the right to host the tournament, should be considered an inherent right.

Quite honestly, we noticed the blatant bias in the game schedule with Gilas Pilipinas facing France on opening day and on the very next game day was matched up against New Zealand, which had the first day off, which also gave their coaching staff an opportunity to scout our team in the game against France. How do you think they learned to stop Terrence Romeo and to a lesser extent Jayson Castro?

Coach Tab Baldwin and our players refused to take it easy against the French and preserve themselves for what was by all accounts an easier match-up against New Zealand and played their hearts out on opening day, in the process wearing themselves out just 24 hours before facing the fully rested Tall Blacks.

That is in the sporting nature of the Filipinos…to give of our very best no matter, who the opponent is  in fairness to the 20,000 fans, who paid good money to see them play.

That is as it should be. But in the end, we lost out because of this commitment to give it our best shot for the sake of the fans.

We would have expected that as hosts we at least could enjoy the right to draw up the schedule to make it more interesting and certainly more fair to the association that pays the huge sums FIBA demands, often asking the SBP under esteemed businessman-sportsman Manny Pangilinan to up the ante which we know he did in order to keep the event in Manila as he also did in trying to bring the last Asian qualifier to Manil,a which was an obvious ploy by FIBA to get China to pay more, which they did.

The same thing happened in the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships before we were out-hustled and out-paid by China to grab the event in 2015, which we just failed to conquer and secure an outright berth to Rio as FIBA and its hand-picked referees gave China the advantage in the crucial calls down the stretch.

To FIBA, as it is to the National Basketball Association, the sport has degenerated into big business with smaller countries like the Philippines left at the mercy of the moneyed clients.

Imagine. We were hosts, but even had to pay millions for the right to telecast the games only in the Philippines and were denied the opportunity to even have the games transmitted to millions of overseas Filipino workers by “live” streaming.

If you looked at the Manila games with any degree of objectivity, you would have noticed that the traveling violations called against Gilas in the France game and the non-calls against the French mirrored a subtle difference that refused to allow the favored teams a chance to lose to the poorer, lesser lights of Southeast Asia, although in terms of skills and fighting hearts, we could match any nation.

The energy sapped out of Gilas Pilipinas, which gave it their all against France, took its toll in the game against New Zealand and we paid the price of seeing our cherished dream turn into a nightmare.

We suggest that like the Games and Amusements Board in the time of the brilliant lawyer-sportsman Rodrigo “Rudy” Salud, who fought the American-dominated world of boxing tooth and nail and brought about meaningful and relevant change to deny the Americans their dictation and domination that resulted in the establishment of a fair and equitable leadership, which the late Don Jose Sulaiman appreciated and worked on, our leaders  in basketball should  forget wasting our resources and pandering to FIBA, the Europe-based organization that refuses to play it fair and square.

Basketball is not solely about Europe and North America, it is about the regions of Asia, Africa  and South America that enjoy an inherent right to fairness and equality.

It’s about time FIBA realized this.

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