Should FIBA bend to SBP request?

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A few days ago, no less than Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio went to Thailand during the 2018 FIBA Asia Champions Cup event with objectives.

First was to support the Meralco Bolts, who represented the Philippines in the continent’s biggest international club competition.

Despite not being the champions of any PBA conference last season, the Bolts were tapped to go up against some of the finest club teams in Asia like the Toyota Alvark (champions of Japan’s B.League), Mono Vampire (champions of the Thailand Basketball Super League) and Al Riyadi Beirut (they won last year’s Asia Champions Cup).

Needless to say, the Bolts who came into the tournament with an overall record of 12 wins and 16 losses for the 2017-2018 PBA season, were not really favored to make a big splash.

That was compounded by two other things. One of their imports — Liam McMorrow — got injured days before the team flew to Thailand and two of their key players — Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge — were deemed ineligible to play as locals for the competition.

Not surprisingly, the SBP, the Meralco team and many fans were unhappy with the latter development.

Newsome and Hodge, of course, are considered as locals in the PBA. Newsome finished college in Ateneo de Manila before getting drafted in the PBA in 2015, while Hodge already played for the national team in the 2011 SEA Games before getting drafted in the PBA in 2012.

Why then were they deemed ineligible by FIBA? Simple — they didn’t fulfill the international governing body’s eligibility provisions for individuals who wanted to play as locals for a particular team, whether it’s a national team or a club team.

In a nutshell, for someone to play as a local Filipino, for instance, he should have fulfilled one of the following things: he should have been born in the Philippines, or if he were born in another country, he should have received his Philippine passport (as proof of his citizenship) before his 16th birthday.

Newsome was born in San Jose, Calfornia, while Hodge was born in Pensacola, Florida. Neither received their Philippine passports they were 16.

Take note that this eligibility provision is applied not just to the Philippines, not just in Asia and not just for national team competitions. It is applied in all FIBA-recognized nations around the world and in all FIBA-sanctioned 5×5 tournaments regardless of age grouping or whether they have club or national teams.

It’s the same for all and for a body like FIBA that takes into consideration the citizenship provisions not just of one or a handful of countries but all of their member nations, this so far has been the most workable eligibility provision to use.

After both Hodge and Newsome were adjudged ineligible, though, our SBP president talked to FIBA Asia executive director Hagop Kjahirian about the possibility of changing the eligibility provisions for future Champions Cups.

It’s an interesting course of action from the SBP, considering how they are already aware of these eligibility provisions, given how these have remained unchanged since as far back as 2011.

And now we’re asking FIBA to bend to our request.

I, for one, won’t hold my breath. I don’t think FIBA should and would change its eligibility policy. Doing so would have potential repercussions on the eligibility provisions not just for Asia but for all FIBA zones and maybe even all FIBA competitions.

It will create unnecessary inconsistency with their existing eligibility provisions for national teams and will produce more questions than answers.

And an international sporting body accommodating a major shift because of just one national sports association’s request? That sends the wrong message to the international sporting community.

It will be interesting to see how FIBA will handle this request, if at all, but don’t be shocked if the status quo remains.

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