Better times ahead?

NOW that the heartache of losing our bid to host the 2019 World Cup of basketball in the Philippines to mighty China, despite a superbly crafted and truly emotional presentation, anchored by the remarkable Fil-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips whose soul was its substance, we can now sit back  and look at why we failed to win despite the FIBA Central Board deliberating longer than expected with two extensions before a final decision was announced.

Was it FIBA’s way of stringing us along as they appeared to have done  all throughout the run-up to the final showdown with China? Or was it a genuine struggle within the Central Board on whether to play safe by going with China or to take a risk on the promises made by the Philippines?

Eventually, FIBA, which is a fairly conservative organization went with a country where all the criteria set by FIBA were met, in some cases over what was required as in the number of top class playing venues. FIBA wanted four, China offered eight.

The Philippines, on the other hand,  could offer only three venues with the fourth in Cebu a mere promise. Given the country’s reputation—not the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas or the eminent businessman-sportsman Manny Pangilinan’s—history of failing to fulfill promises made, it was a risk FIBA was clearly not prepared to take.

Besides, while the sprawling Philippine Arena could accommodate 55,000 fans, its location left much to be desired given the fact that there were no hotels anywhere near the venue and the horrendous traffic getting into the NLEX where the flow is smooth, was another drawback.

While there are first-class hotels near the superb Mall of Asia Arena and the Smart Araneta Coliseum, which is being refurbished, the traffic gridlock along EDSA makes getting to the Araneta even from the EDSA Shangrila Hotel a major hazard.

China in contrast offered a smooth as silk network of highways, trains and other means of rapid transportation as against our own dilapidated transport system.

One other factor that probably weighed on the minds of the FIBA Central Board members was the politics that continue to hound the Philippines and are generally regarded as a debilitating factor.

Even today, politics and personal, selfish interests have undermined the forming of a competitive team for the FIBA Asia Championships this year which may well have made FIBA wonder whether we could form a team of consequence if we won the right  to host the 2019 World Cup.

They probably wondered who would be president in 2019 and would that individual support the hosting of the World Cup. For all the criticism of President Benigno Aquino III and his seeming lack of interest in sports, we must be fair to our president because he did support the country’s bid.

By allowing Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and Tourism secretary Ramon Jimenez to be part of the delegation, as well as Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno and Sen. Sonny Angara, both basketball enthusiasts,  President Aquino tacitly supported the Philippine bid.

But the corrupt politicians who robbed our people of billions through the pork barrel scam and other nefarious schemes deprived our national government of the funds that could have been channeled to large-scale infrastructure development. Perhaps, if found guilty through the proper judicial procedure, they should be banished to one of the disputed islands in the West Philippine sea, to pay for their sins.

In our presentation, we deftly stayed away from our obvious weaknesses and anchored our bid on the passion of 100 million Filipinos to whom basketball is an inherent element in their everyday lives which is manifested in the following of the Philippine Basketball Association which is the second oldest professional basketball league behind the world’s greatest – the NBA.

While China with its huge population outnumbers the Philippines and can, like a machine, ensure that their stadiums are filled on game days, there is no way they could match the incredible passion of the Filipinos for the game itself and their knowledge of its nuances.

In the end, money talks and while our economy has concededly improved in recent years, we are no match against China whose economic and military power are a significant reality in the modern world.

China offered Euros 30 million while Manny Pangilinan initially offered Euros 12 million and subsequently, at the prodding of FIBA upped it to 14 million as though it would have made a difference to FIBA to whom basketball has been transformed into big business and where a passionate heart cannot conceivably overcome the lure of big bucks.

That the Philippines garnered 7 votes as against China’s 14 speaks volumes of the success of our presentation and the positive response by the more forward-looking members if FIBA who were willing to take a gamble on a country whose love for basketball, which is our No.1 sport by far and whose unbridled passion is a testament to that love in a heart that beats strong even in the face of defeat.

Mr. Pangilinan was a beacon to those who dare to lead and who keep the faith with dignity. Perhaps, he should look at a more realistic target which may well be to seek the right to host a world youth championship when young sensations  like Kobe Paras, Bobby Ray Parks and Kiefer Ravena among others can carry our colors with honor.

Although we lost this time around, we can hold our heads up high because we earned the respect and the hearts of millions around the world for how we stood up to a giant in China and never flinched even for a moment.  

Our people and the delegation members shed tears, but they were tears that mirrored our anguish and also our hope for better times ahead and success in the future.

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