Olympic dream still alive
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 22, 2019 - 12:00am

The dream is for the Philippines to make it back to Olympic basketball in Tokyo after a long wait of nearly 50 years. It was SBP’s goal for Gilas to finish as the highest-ranked Asian country at the recent FIBA World Cup in China to claim the Olympic ticket in 5x5 basketball.

No Asian country advanced to the second round in the World Cup although China picked up a win over Ivory Coast in the first round. China and Iran wound up with two wins in the end. South Korea and Jordan finished with a win apiece, both over African nations. Japan and the Philippines were winless.

Under FIBA’s Olympic qualifying rules, the best Asian placer in the World Cup earned a ticket to Tokyo. That ticket went to Iran which ended up No. 23 because of a higher point differential of +7 over China’s -10. China fell to No. 24. South Korea was No. 26, Jordan No. 28, Japan No. 31 and the Philippines dead last at No. 32. The Philippines’ point differential was a tournament high -147. Japan and Jordan were tied with a point differential of -130 each.

With the Philippines failing to nail the Olympic 5x5 ticket outright, Gilas’ last hope to make it to Tokyo was through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament but that involved receiving an invitation from FIBA to participate as a wildcard. 

For the coming Olympics, FIBA will stage four Qualifying Tournaments to determine the last four to play in Tokyo. At the FIBA World Cup, seven tickets were given out plus an eighth slot for host Japan. The seven tickets went to the top two Americas finishers, No. 2 Argentina and No. 7 US, the top two Europe finishers, No. 1 Spain and No. 3 France, Iran, the top African finisher No. 17 Nigeria and the top Oceania finisher No. 4 Australia.

Then, the next 16 top finishers in the World Cup were invited to participate in the four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. They were No. 5 Serbia, No. 6 Czech Republic, No. 8 Poland, No. 9 Lithuania, No. 10 Italy, No. 11 Greece, No. 12 Russia, No. 13 Brazil, No. 14 Venezuela, No. 15 Puerto Rico, No. 16 Dominican Republic, No. 18 Germany, No. 19 New Zealand, No. 20 Tunisia, No. 21 Canada and No. 22 Turkey.

FIBA reserved the right to invite eight wildcards to complete the 24-nation cast for the Qualifying Tournaments where each competition would involve six teams. The allocation was two from Asia, two from the Americas, two from Africa and two from Europe. The invitations were given to No. 24 China and No. 26 South Korea from Asia, No. 27 Angola and No. 30 Senegal, Mexico and Uruguay from the Americas and Croatia and Slovenia from Europe. Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia and Slovenia did not qualify for the World Cup. Curiously, Ivory Coast finished higher than Senegal in the World Cup. Ivory Coast wound up No. 29 with a point differential of -74 while Senegal was No. 30 with a point differential of -102.

So officially, the Philippines’ dream of returning to Olympic 5x5 basketball next year has fizzled out. Even if China or South Korea backs out of the Olympic qualifiers, the Philippines wouldn’t be next in line for an invitation as Jordan had a higher finish in the World Cup. The last Olympics where the Philippines played basketball was in Munich in 1972 when the team was coached by Ning Ramos. The Philippine Olympic squad was composed of Bogs Adornado, Ciso Bernardo, Joy Cleofas, Danny Florencio, Jimmy Mariano, Yoyong Martirez, Tembong Melencio, Ed Ocampo, Manny Paner, Jun Papa, Marte Samson and Freddie Webb.

In Munich, the Philippines lost its first six games by an average margin of 24.3 points. The biggest loss was to Yugoslavia by 41 points, 117-76. But the team finished on a high note, winning its last three games over Senegal, 72-68, Egypt by forfeit and Japan, 80-73. So the records will show that the Philippines won its last three games in Olympic basketball.

But wait, there’s still hope for the Philippines to play basketball in Tokyo in the 3x3 event which will be introduced in the Olympic calendar. Eight teams will play in the men’s division and eight will also play in the women’s. For both men and women, one slot will be given to host Japan then three tickets will be issued to the top three in the world rankings. Three more slots will be allocated to the top three finishers of a 20-team Qualifying Tournament where the Philippines may receive a quota spot. The final ticket will be given to the winner of a six-team universality-driven Qualifying Tournament.

At the moment, the Philippines ranks No. 25 in the FIBA 3x3 men’s ladder. Asian countries ahead in the standings are No. 3 China, No. 5 Mongolia, No. 9 Japan and No. 24 Qatar. In the FIBA 3x3 women’s standings, the Philippines is No. 24. Asian countries ahead in the totem pole are No. 2 China, No. 5 Mongolia, No. 8 Japan, No. 9 Iran, No. 13 Chinese Taipei and No. 21 Indonesia. In the latest FIBA world rankings for 5x5, the Philippines has retained its No. 31 slot despite the lowly finish at the World Cup.

The Philippines is in a furious pace to climb the FIBA 3x3 ladder in both men and women with the SBP spearheading the efforts with several commercial partners, mainly Chooks To Go. With the Olympic dream in 5x5 gone up in smoke, a slim chance to make it to Tokyo via the 3x3 route remains. Who knows? The Philippines might still be able to play basketball in the Olympics next year.

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