SBP delivers message of hope

Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It didn’t seem possible at first. The Philippines was supposed to host eight teams from Groups A and C in the FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window in Clark last Feb. 18-21 but that was cancelled when the government issued a travel ban. The games were moved to Qatar in March but the window remained shut because of the pandemic.

In April, FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis phoned SBP chairman emeritus and FIBA Central Board member Manny V. Pangilinan to ask if the Philippines could open its doors for two groups with time running out to hold the third window as a prelude to the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta in August. This time, IATF gave its go-signal to SBP’s proposal of a bubble-to-bubble approach involving the visiting teams, extensive testing and adapting the best practices from the PBA experience last year. Without hesitation, MVP and SBP president Al Panlilio assured FIBA that SBP would be up to the task. FIBA later assigned teams from Groups A, B and C to Clark with SBP welcoming the challenge. Eventually, games of Guam and Hong Kong in Group C were moved to Amman, Jordan, leaving four teams in Group A and three in Group B to play 11 total games over five days in Clark. The games started yesterday and will end Sunday.

Two weeks ago, SBP mobilized a staff of 200 to get the Clark bubble ready, arranging accommodations of single rooms at the Quest and Lohas Hotels, sprucing up the Angeles University Foundation gym up to FIBA standards and coordinating safety and testing protocols with Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) president/CEO Secretary Vince Dizon, Clark Development Corp. (CDC) president/CEO Manuel Gaerlan and BCDA senior vice president Arrey Perez. It’s been a lot of hard work, sleepless nights and endless meetings but SBP was determined to deliver a message of hope that the Philippines could successfully mount its first international sporting event since the pandemic broke out.

It’s a tribute to MVP that he got the ball rolling. “The eyes of the world are on us,” said SBP deputy executive director Butch Antonio who’s been holed up in Clark the last two weeks. “This wouldn’t be possible without the support of MVP, ASP (Panlilio), FIBA, SBP, BCDA and CDC. MVP wanted to do this for our country, to show the world the resilience of our people, to give hope that we will beat this virus and return to normalcy. Last Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption which virtually wiped out Clark. Yet here we are today, in Clark, hosting a major international sporting event in this pandemic.”

Antonio said Gilas’ participation is a key stepping stone in the build-up for the 2023 FIBA World Cup with a team whose average age is 22.3 years. “I remember it took Iran about five years with Haddadi, Bahrami and Kamrani to get to the top of Asia,” he said. “We’re off to a good start with coach Tab (Baldwin), assembling a core of young players to stay together, play games, gain experience as a team. Last November, we played the second window in Bahrain under difficult circumstances to show our commitment to FIBA, to prove we won’t back down from the fight against this pandemic. For the Clark tournament, we didn’t play a single tune-up game to prepare but the guys worked hard to make our country proud, no matter what.”

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