GAB’s inclusiveness breakthroughs

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - November 16, 2020 - 12:00am

Friday was a historic day for the Games and Amusements Board. Two virtual meetings that doubled as press conferences ushered in a new age for professional sports. Both developments have brought women’s volleyball and collegiate athletes on par with the rest of the world  And it’s about time.

The announcement that the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) was formally turning professional was a milestone for the sport. The robust online gathering was attended by officials, team owners and players of the PVL led by president Ricky Palou, and several officials of the GAB starting with chairman Baham Mitra. All agreed that this was a watershed moment. Mitra emphasized that the GAB believes in self-regulation, and was there as a helpful “brother” to pro sports organizations. Mitra also offered the board’s help in mediating cases of conflict between athletes and teams.

Earlier in the day, GAB also had a breakthrough announcement with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). The government agency announced the introduction of a Guest License for collegiate athletes competing in commercial tournaments that would not affect their amateur status. Despite a story in the press that the Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) would bar its student-athletes from playing in future commercial tournaments, GAB said it was still holding exploratory discussions with the league regarding the Guest License.

As a flashback, before tennis, basketball and other sports were declared open in the late 1980’s, European (particularly Soviet Union) countries had an unfair advantage. They allowed professional athletes to simply personally declare a return to amateur status any time they wanted to compete in the Olympic Games. Thus, older, stronger, more seasoned pros in ice hockey and the aforementioned sports constantly beat the stuffing out of their younger, less experienced amateur opponents. When an American basketball team composed of college students was bullied to a bronze medal in Seoul in 1988, NBA players balked. This provided impetus to allow pros in some sports to play in international amateur competitions. This differentiation was the reason why former MICAA team owners formed the Philippine Basketball Association. They felt that the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) then was overusing the players they had invested in for the national team. The only way out of it in 1975 was to turn pro. This changed the trajectory of Philippine basketball for decades.

With Beach Volleyball Republic and the men’s group Spikers’ Turf intent on likewise turning pro, what does this mean for the athletes? At the most basic, being a professional athlete and having another government ID makes it easier to open a bank account, apply for government benefits and so on, as opposed to merely being an amateur. Beyond that, the PVL players acknowledged that it provides a certain prestige and stature being pro. More significantly, volleyball trailblazer Alyssa Valdez affirms that it gives succeeding generations of players a future career to look forward to.

For the GAB, it grows the professional sports community further, helps the national government, and strengthens the spirit of inclusiveness this GAB board has been espousing. Soon, more and more commercial sports leagues will see the value of being professional. Sadly, some won’t, due to a baseless fear of government intervention, or if they have aren’t treating athletes properly.

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