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Sports

The basketball exodus

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Today, the basketball gods of the Philippines are meeting to discuss the exodus of some of the strongest young players from the country to Japan’s B. League. The concern is twofold: that Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ future national teams will have a depleted pool to draw from; and that the PBA now has high-quality international competition for talent. Both are serious matters for a country that feasts on hoops like very few others in the world.

People ask why these young players would prefer to go overseas to earn a living and leave everything behind. Let’s examine another sport that has had a similar trajectory.

Philippine rugby players have been moving to Japan for over a decade. The rules of Japanese rugby allow for each squad to hire four foreign players, with one carrying an Asian passport. When they recruit a Fil-foreign player, they get an Asian who grew up in powerhouse countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK and others. Plus, they generally would have played on the Philippine team, and thus are guaranteed to be quality athletes. In Japan, they can earn up to $20,000 to $25,000 a month, all expenses paid, and are treated like royalty. Who wouldn’t want to go? The downside is that their Japanese mother teams’ schedules make it difficult for the Filipino rugby players to return to the national team when they are needed. This is what is feared would also happen to Filipino basketball players.

Now let’s look at the larger picture. The outward migration of Filipinos accelerated in the 1980’s, initially propelled by the US needing more nurses, and then by the Middle East needing more workers because of its construction boom. Prior to that, every world war resulted in industrialized countries needing more skilled workers. This means that succeeding generations of Filipinos (including athletes) are conscious of their option to leave the country for greater prosperity. It is not exclusive to certain professions. In addition, statistically, millennials are much less likely to buy a house or even a car. They are less tied down to a particular location than their parents were. They seek life on their own terms. That’s just the way they are.

It will be very difficult for the SBP and PBA to control this brain drain, simply because now, the players have a point of comparison. They can find a place where they feel they will be of greater value in their limited playing years. The economics just work out better for them. And Japan is just a few hours’ flight away. Besides, Filipino basketball coaches have been working all over the world for decades without restriction.

If either the SBP or PBA tries to penalize them for seeking greener pastures, the public will react negatively. It may even be construed as restraint of trade. The carrot always works better than the stick. The question is how both SBP and PBA can make staying more attractive than leaving. They need creative solutions. The well-known online financial content creator Nomad Capitalist’s tagline is “Go where you are treated best.” That is exactly what these brave young basketball players are doing. They just want a better future. Don’t we all?

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