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A sport with a heart

WHEN legendary supporter of Philippine sports, the eminent businessman Manny Pangilinan leads our country’s delegation to Tokyo for the FIBA Central Board meeting on Aug. 7, he will need the support of an entire nation and our fervent prayers in his daring effort to take on mighty China in a bid to stage the 2019 World Cup of basketball in the Philippines.

 This is nowhere near a confrontation because such adversarial stances do not enhance the value and virtues of sportsmanship and fairness in sports.

 Outside the disputes over territorial claims in the West Philippine scene, which has regrettably fueled unnecessarily harsh rhetoric, the desire of both the Philippines and China is to win the right to stage the biggest basketball tournament in the world.

 Our bid is anchored on the unbridled passion of  Filipino fans, who may be outnumbered by the Chinese, but could never be matched in their fervent desire to host the World Cup.

 In the end, the FIBA Central Board must not rely solely on numbers—whether it be the many stadiums China has to offer compared to ours or the economic power of China, because while indeed basketball is big business, it’s a sport with a heart and the Philippines is unmatched in this regard.

 We recall that former NBA Commissioner David Stern some years ago cited the Philippine Basketball Association and our country for the tremendous impact and development of basketball in the Asia-Pacific region.

 While China, with its huge population and big, strong stars have often dominated various FIBA tournaments in Asia, the fact remains that a comparatively small Gilas Pilipinas team earned a spot in the last World Cup in Spain, while China for various reasons we guess, did not.

 It should never be the size of the country, its economic and military power, which cannot be ignored, as a subtle influence on the world stage, or its sheer might.

 Rather it should be anchored on a compelling need to be recognized for all it has done for decades to enhance the sport and grow the passion for the game from people of all walks of life.

 Basketball in the Philippines is an integral part of the everyday lives of millions of Filipinos, while in China, it is football that attracts the biggest attention.

 If bigness is the ultimate yardstick of the choice, then let FIBA rotate the World Cup among the biggest and most populated countries in the world, ignoring the reality that the mission of FIBA must be to help the smaller countries achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams in the wonderful world of international basketball.

 Certainly, there can never be anyone in the Chinese delegation, who could match the fervor of Manny Pangilinan in his support for basketball and in his desire to host the World Cup and prove, like we’ve done in several major international undertakings and sports events through the years, that we have the capacity to do things very well and to make the stay of our visitors a truly meaningful and enjoyable experience.

 It’s good that eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao has been invited to be part of the delegation, because he is a favorite in China and all of Asia, Europe and the United States and has, in his own delightful way, immersed himself in the sport of basketball. This is something China cannot challenge let alone match.

 The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas demonstrated its remarkable ability to host the last FIBA Asia Championships, with thousands flocking to the Mall of Asia Arena to enjoy the games and cheer the Philippine team in a magnificent display of togetherness, where people from all walks of life and every conceivable economic and social order, cheered as one with a passion that no fans anywhere in the world could match.

 It’s not the noise that many fans can possibly generate by their sheer numbers in a stadium in China, but ultimately it’s the heart and soul that binds a love for the game that counts and as was acknowledged in the last World Cup, the Philippines were champions, not on the hard-court but in the stands, and earned their richly deserved recognition from the international media.

 Surely, the FIBA Central Board has a heart. To deny the Philippines what to us seems like an inalienable right for all that we have done for the sport through the years would be, to put it bluntly, heartless.

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