Darkness shrouded Philippine sports when Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas announced that Gilas Pilipinas will not be competing in the men’s basketball competition of the 18th Asian Games.
The news was unleashed like a flying elbow to the jaw.
Everybody felt betrayed, especially the Philippine Basketball Association that affirmed its all-out support only to find out couple of hours later that the federation had already gunned down its participation.
The league wasn’t even consulted about the withdrawal.
As one board member privately said: “We felt betrayed.”
But the availability — or non-availability — of blue chip local players is reportedly not the main reason behind this comedy of errors.
What served as the deal-breaker was the federation’s failure to secure the services of “reinforcements” in Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson and Filipino-German Christian Standhardinger.
Based on the Olympic Council of Asia rules on eligibility, any local or naturalized player who wants to represent his country in the Asian Games must serve a three-year residency in the country he wishes to represent.
Clarkson and Standhardinger may have their respective Philippine passports but they have yet to completely reside in the country for three consecutive years.
It’s the same situation with that of Andray Blatche, who was barred from seeing action in the previous Asian Games in Incheon despite presenting a freshly inked Philippine passport.
A New York native who already saw action in the National Basketball Association and the Chinese Basketball Association, Blatche first stepped into the country in 2014 when Gilas Pilipinas was about to embark in the Fiba World Championship, which came few weeks before the Asian Games.
This specific provision in the OCA rules was crafted to discourage wealthy gulf countries from hiring young African mercenaries to compete in track and field events of Asia’s biggest athletic conclave.
Although the Kuwaitis and other officials from Arab states are in control of the OCA, board members from powerhouse countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand frowned on having their athletes compete against players from other continents like Africa and the Americas.
As what OCA honorary vice president Wei Jizhong of China said at the height of the controversy: “If they buy some athletes, they would stop the training of their own athletes. This is not beneficial for their country’s sports program.”
OCA will surely not bend its rules.
And the SBP knew that.
So, the best solution, as what happened in the dead of the night on Thursday, was to pull the plug and walk away.
Just like that and Gilas died.