Freeman Cebu Sports

Basketball, Football practice to resume?

BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro - The Freeman

Headlines can sometimes lead to more confusion than certainty. And the recent updates on sports activities in this pandemic was a classic example. Below are headlines of different online media outfits and you be the judge.

“JUST IN: IATF allows conduct of practice sessions for basketball, football teams amid COVID-19 pandemic.” - GMA News Online

“IATF Clears Basketball Football to Resume Training” – ABS-CBN Sports

“Gov’t allows practices to resume for basketball, football amid community quarantine” – GMA News Online

When Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced on Friday that the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) had allowed the professional leagues PBA and PFL to resume practice, social media was filled with these headlines, leading many to think that practice (in general) was already allowed. Diehard sports personalities, from organizers to fans and weekend warriors expressed their sighs of relief, joy and gratitude on social media that they could finally play. But hold your horses guys! Don’t read the headlines according to your personal wishes. There’s a need to read the fine print, the details of the news.

The IATF approval covers ONLY the teams of the Philippine Basketball Association and the Philippine Football League. Any other type of basketball and football activity at any level is not allowed. Moreover, the kind of practice that is allowed is limited to conditioning sessions and for a fixed number of participants. For basketball, this is limited to four players per session with a conditioning coach and a health officer. Members of the coaching staff are not allowed at these sessions. Football conditioning sessions will be restricted to ten players per session and at only one venue, the Philippine Football Federation’s National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite. Scrimmages, practice games or activities involving physical contact are not allowed for both the PBA and PFL. The joke going around is that scrimmages will be allowed only if all players wear PPE suits.

Strict health and safety protocols will surely be put in place. This will include regular testing for COVID-19, temperature checks and the presence of a medical team at all times. I’m already assuming that disinfection of practice venues and screening of all personnel will be very strict. Will the media, VIPs, players’ wives, children or girlfriends be allowed at the practice venue? Will face masks and goggles or face shields be required?

And so what happens next? The natural next step from this would be the regular ball drills involving skills to be followed by team drills where a team practices together and with more people involved. And when the timing is ripe, the IATF might just allow scrimmages and practice games. There are even talks of resuming games of the PBA already in September or October. Again, hold your horses. Let’s take things one step at a time.

This is where tons of caution must now be in place. We must not forget that even if GCQ or MGCQ is in place, the virus is very much alive and kicking, and ready to rumble, too. This will be a good case study to see if other sports can follow suit with a similar set-up. Boxing is waiting in the wings to resume practice as are the semi-pro leagues of volleyball (PSL and PVL) and the MPBL of basketball. The UAAP has expressed their intention to resume in the first quarter of 2021, while the NCAA said they’ll have a scaled-down version with only four events also next year. I’m sure they are laying out the necessary groundwork for the implementation of strict health and safety guidelines. The IATF and all sports associations should also look at the COVID playbook of the countries that have already allowed their professional sports leagues to resume.

As far as Cebu is concerned, sorry but we are not in a position to implement what they are doing in the big city. We’re the country’s topnotcher of the COVID race and it will take a while before things level off (flatten the curve). We are also not fully equipped to provide for the strict health and safety guidelines that a resumption of practice would entail. Meanwhile, teams should maintain their online practice sessions and players should stay in shape on their own. The pandemic has been an opportunity for coaches and players to be creative and resourceful in charting practice programs for their teams. And we all know our limitations, don’t we? Let’s not force the issue.

Chill lang sa ta ha. Be patient. Stay strong. Stay fit. Stay safe. Stay home.

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