Why blame GAB

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2021 - 12:00am

Critics went on a rampage in the bash wagon to lash out at the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) in the wake of the recent outrageous game between Siquijor and Lapu-Lapu in the Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup. The first salvo questioned GAB’s licensing of VisMin as a pro league and the next attack was a blast at the government agency for announcing a preventive suspension of the Mindanao leg in view of alleged widespread game-fixing in the Visayas leg. The premise of the first salvo was VisMin is nothing more than a bush league and therefore shouldn’t have been given a pro license. The premise of the second attack was GAB presumed guilt without due process in ordering the preventive suspension.

Let’s put things in perspective. GAB was designated by IATF to coordinate with PSC and DOH in crafting the relevant Joint Administrative Orders (JAO) on sports during this pandemic. Because of the crisis, the IATF initially froze sporting activities then gave in to allow pro events with GAB’s supervision. As a government agency under the Office of the President, GAB is mandated to oversee and supervise pro sports with an Anti-Illegal Gambling Unit “to combat and prevent the existence and proliferation of illegal bookie joints and other illegal forms of organized gambling in professional sports and amusement games.”

Since GAB holds the key to IATF giving the thumbs up for sporting events to restart, GAB chairman Baham Mitra thought of a way for collegiate basketball players to get back on the court by offering Special Guest Licenses (SGLs) to compete in pro leagues without losing their amateur status. GAB, however, isn’t in a position to impose SGL recognition on collegiate leagues so that while the UAAP wouldn’t allow it, the NCAA agreed. The lack of uniformity is something that should be addressed from an SBP standpoint. In the VisMin Super Cup, NCAA players who availed of the SGL are Arellano’s John Jordan Sta. Ana, Rich Lorenz Quinitaran, Darell Minina and Rene Pamaran. Regarding pros, Mitra said “we really felt the need to help our athletes sustain their livelihood and to keep the entire professional sports industry afloat amidst the global pandemic.” Since IATF required GAB supervision for sports to roll out, it meant leagues had to be pro to restart. That’s why Chooks To Go 3x3, PVL, chess and VisMin went pro. With GAB, IATF was assured of government regulation and supervision. Exceptions were made for MPBL to finish its Lakan Cup and PSL to stage a weekend beach volleyball bubble in Subic as both MPBL and PSL are not pro leagues. GAB shouldn’t be chastised for giving the chance for pro sports to resume, rather it should be applauded. More than 300 players, coaches and utility staff were provided jobs by VisMin. Without a pro license, VisMin wouldn’t have been permitted to launch the Super Cup and offer a means of living for hundreds.

Mitra, who has a soft spot in his heart for sports as a former San Beda basketball and football junior player, said the preventive suspension on the Mindanao leg is within GAB’s authority. “We want them to shape up,” he said. “We are empowered to suspend a league if found to be infested by illegal gambling. Sa GAB galing ang permit ng games. Technically, it’s not a suspension because wala naman order or resolution. It is contingent on our review of the situation, how VisMin is conducting the Visayas leg. We are in the process of investigation and seriously looking into the allegations of wrong-doing. The GAB Board would like to further observe the on-going Visayas leg before giving a go-signal for the Mindanao leg. Our mandate is to ensure the integrity of professional sports and welfare of players and we’re doing just that.”

While GAB is taking the initiative to exercise its mandate, it’s not doing things on its own. Mitra is coordinating with SBP and PBA to dig deep into the VisMin scandal and may call in the NBI to assist its Anti-Illegal Gambling Unit headed by Brig. Gen. Florendo Quibuyen. Critics are on the wrong track in aiming their guns at GAB. The target is the illegal gambling syndicate, not GAB, and it’s fortunate GAB is on top of cleaning up this mess.

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