Tougher than bubble

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial conceded yesterday that getting approval from IATF to start the 46th season in Pasig or within the NCR Plus area was tougher than securing the go-signal to play in Clark under strict bubble conditions last year. It took several meetings for Marcial with over 40 government agencies to finally receive IATFs blessings to get the ball rolling.

Marcial knew that before he could even reach first base, vaccination was a priority. Some players even went to the US to get their shots but Marcial facilitated the jabs of most of the players, coaches, team officials and staff with the help of government facilities. When Marcial submitted his proposal to start the season to IATFs Technical Working Group (TWG) two weeks ago, he reported a vaccination rate of over 95 percent. At the time, NCR Plus was still under GCQ with “somerestrictions but Marcial convinced the TWG to recommend approval of his proposal to IATF on the basis of the successful staging of the 5x5 scrimmages over the past 1 1 1/2 months.

The TWG wondered if the PBA could do another bubble but Marcial said it wouldnt be possible. First, because it was extremely stressful to the players, mentally. And second, because with the PBA unable to roll out the games, income has been restricted and in Clark, the budget was between P70 to 80 million. The PBA couldnt afford another major expense of that magnitude.

Games and Amusements Board (GAB) chairman Baham Mitra reminded the TWG that an existing JAO (Joint Administrative Order) prohibited 5x5 scrimmages, much less games, in GCQ areas with “somerestrictions. But he qualified that JAO may be amended if the TWG recommends the opening of the PBA season to IATF. As it turned out, the TWG went ahead to support the start and in a later meeting with Marcial and DOH officials, it was agreed that the JAO would not be amended but only the PBA could be the exception to the rule, meaning no other league may be launched in NCR Plus. The PBA was given special dispensation because of its significant role in providing livelihood to hundreds and entertainment to millions who have long been deprived of watching their favorite teams in action. Besides, Marcials proposal of a closed-circuit system with strict safety protocols was persuasive as it was backed by the success of applying the same system in practices in GCQ and MGCQ areas in Batangas, Ilocos Norte and Pampanga. When the government recently declared NCR Plus under GCQ with no restrictions up to July 31, it was like a reassuring pat on the PBAs back.

Marcial said he went all out to secure IATFs support because he couldnt let down the fans who love the PBA. “Pati mga pari sa simbahan pinagdasal ang PBA,” he said. “May teacher lumapit sa akin at sabi, natuwa ang asawa niya noong nagkaroon ng bubble tapos malungkot na naman noong natigil. Mga nagbebenta sa palengke, panay ang tanong kung kailan mag-uumpisa uli ang PBA.” Marcial said it was worth all the meetings, the presentations, the proposals, the sleepless nights and the long wait to bring the PBA back for the fans.

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