First posted 02:38am (Mla time) May 07, 2006
By Ramon J. Farolan
Inquirer Daily News: www.inq7.net
Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the May 7, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
ONE month ago, the sports sections of the major newspapers in town were full of photos of Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) officials smiling broadly as they were being greeted by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge in Seoul, South Korea. The officials—POC president Jose Cojuangco, first vice president Monico Puentevella, and representatives of four major cage stakeholders-were in Korea to brief Federacion Internationale de Basketball (Fiba) secretary general Patrick Baumann on the progress of initiatives aimed at lifting the country's suspension from Fiba- and IOC-sponsored international basketball competitions. The officials also met incoming Fiba president Bob Elphinston of Australia.
Unfortunately, behind the happy faces and social amenities, what they got from Baumann was a blunt statement telling them that the fastest way to get Philippine basketball back on track was for the group to urge Joey Lina, Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) president, to rejoin the group of basketball stakeholders and sign on for the new basketball body, Pilipinas Basketball.
Just to refresh our memories: Sometime in June last year, the POC voted to expel the BAP for various reasons. Some were valid; some were inaccurate, possibly ill-motivated. Whatever was the real reason, the POC failed to take into account the legal repercussions of their action vis-…-vis Fiba-sponsored basketball events. The POC probably thought that after expelling the BAP and setting up a new organization, the Philippine Basketball Federation Inc. (PBFI), Fiba would automatically accept the new group. This did not happen. In fact, as a result of the POC action, Fiba suspended the Philippines from participating in all Fiba-sponsored tournaments. That was the reason why basketball could not be included in the Southeast Asian Games held in Manila in December 2005, even as Philippine basketball fans were looking forward to our defending the basketball crown we won in Vietnam in 2003.
A POC delegation headed by Cojuangco left for Geneva in September to try to get a reversal of the Fiba decision. The mission failed; instead the delegation came home with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which, in an open letter, called "on all our basketball-loving countrymen to swallow the bitter pill now with us for the virtue of long-term gains." The MOU was described by the POC as the "one big break we all had been waiting for." Well, we swallowed the bitter pill of not being able to host the basketball event in the SEA Games but, so far, there has been no long-term gain from such a sacrifice. The deadline for that memorandum of understanding was March 31 this year. The day has come and gone, but we are no closer to having the suspension of the Philippines lifted.
What we see are people ganging up on Lina as though he was the culprit in this mess. Remember that it was the POC that expelled the BAP, and now it is in a bind because it needs Lina's signature to get Fiba accreditation. But why should Lina sign on at the expense of the organization of which he is president?
This is no brief for Lina and the BAP. As I said earlier, some of the criticism leveled against the BAP are valid. But I don't like the idea of pressuring one man and picturing him as the stumbling block in our efforts to solve our basketball problems. The last thing we need is a scapegoat, or someone on whom to pin the blame for a situation created by others.
But even if Lina signed on for the new organization, the road would still be long and tedious for Philippine basketball. This is so because, as clarified by Fiba Secretary General Baumann, Fiba would have to expel the BAP before accepting its replacement—a move Fiba clearly does not relish because "it would set a bad precedent in the world basketball community."
To my mind, the best solution to our problem is really quite simple. Reinstate BAP in the family of our sports associations. Can this happen? Not under the present POC leadership. There is too much pride and amor propio involved and, unfortunately, it is the country that suffers. We continue to be a pariah in the international basketball community-an outcast, a leper-all because our sports officials are too self-centered and fail to consider the interests of the nation. We are probably out of the coming Asian Games in Doha as far as basketball is concerned, and we will face this same situation in other Fiba and IOC-approved cage events.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, I am no basketball fanatic. My sport of choice is golf. But this is not really about basketball. This is all about national pride and dignity, and the sooner we get our act together, the better it will be for the country and the millions of Filipino basketball enthusiasts who love this particular sport. For heaven's sake, we are the best in Southeast Asia when it comes to basketball. It is difficult to understand how and why we got into a situation which bars us from international cage competitions.
If the current crop of sports leaders cannot solve the problem of Philippine basketball, perhaps, it is time for them to consider stepping aside and giving others an opportunity to put an end to this shameful state of affairs.