Mitra makes his way

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Games and Amusement Board (GAB) chairman Abraham “Baham” Mitra has slowly but surely been transforming the face of professional sports in the Philippines. Since his appointment to the office in 2016, the youngest son of former House Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. has used his impartiality to give the agency more teeth, and expanded its reach, clamping down hard on those who try to skirt the law to make a buck at others’ expense.

“I’m new at this, international cockfighting is my thing. But it’s great, because I have no vested interest,” said the former presidential consultant on Palawan. “I don’t know any trainer, I don’t know any boxer, I don’t know any manager or promoter. That’s why everyone is equal. I’m happy that way.”

Mitra also asserted his authority with international boxing organizations who refused to recognize GAB’s jurisdiction when Filipinos fight abroad. Now, they are learning to give the position the proper respect. Time was that they would not even let GAB officials at ringside for big fights in Las Vegas. That respect was hard-earned, particularly during the run-up to the Pacquiao-Vargas fight in November of 2016, after Mitra had just assumed office.

The former three-term congressman has likewise fought hard to protect the rights of Filipino boxers, especially those who leave the country incognito as tourists, only to fight abroad, often as cannon fodder. Mitra says he has eliminated that practice. He is also proud that, with active offices in Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and elsewhere, he has made it more difficult for rising boxers to fight again immediately after being knocked out. He gives part of the credit to social media. There is nowhere for unscrupulous promoters to hide, and for boxers to endanger themselves. The GAB now also has a fund to assist injured or impoverished boxers.

Part of Mitra’s job is to regulate and police big basketball leagues like the PBA, which he says makes his job easier.

“The PBA is practically self-regulating,” Mitra admits. “We just have to update ourselves if they have any changes in the rules. If we don’t know, we write, we ask. And they also pay their taxes from gate receipts and the TV coverage.”

Mitra, whose father could have been president in the 1990’s if not for internal maneuvering within his political party, now seeks to clarify the status of other leagues that pay their players for their skills.

“Our concern at the moment is the MPBL. You can’t deny that the players receive salaries. You can call it an allowance,” he explains. “According to the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission), if you get paid and don’t play for the flag, then you’re a pro. They’re saying they can’t be pro because they have UAAP and NCAA players. I said to them, then don’t let them play. If the league is declared pro, then the student-athletes cannot play.”

Mitra is making his way through the murky waters of Philippine sports, and has so far done a great job in clearing up matters that will benefit pro athletes and those who make a living in sports for years to come.

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