There was a sense of swift punitiveness in the way the Philippine Basketball Association swooped down on Barako Bull center Don Allado’s supposedly drunken tirade on Twitter on game-fixing. And that can be interpreted two ways.
First, the PBA was putting its foot down on statements that would erode the public’s faith in it and torching persistent rumors of plots to control the outcome of games and tournaments. Second, Allado’s allegations on Twitter may actually be more than ramblings of a sore loser, and by shooting the messenger, the PBA was hoping that the message would die as well.
There is sufficient reason to support either school of thought.
The PBA, Asia’s first play-for-pay basketball league, has always been conscious of the image it projects to its legions of fans. Coaches have in fact been fined for post-game remarks that question the officiating. And nothing destroys public perception of the PBA more than allegations that rock the very core of its existence. Now a multimillion-peso industry, the PBA is the leading source of live sports entertainment in the country. And unfortunately, unlike in professional wrestling, the entertainment half of the equation suffers when the sporting half is put under suspicion.
That was exactly what Allado did in saying that there was game-fixing on July 3, when his team lost to Powerade. By the time he deleted his tweet, publicly apologized, and claimed that he was under the influence when he went on his rant, the damage had been done.
This is not the first time game-fixing allegations were thrown the PBA’s way. Any sport with a very public league will have to deal with such a controversy. Allado’s accusation, however, was grave. He did not talk about a single player dropping games or teams paying off the refs. He did not talk about players shaving points to beat the spread. He accused the PBA itself of manipulating not just games but also tournaments. He did not set out to destroy the public’s faith in one player or one team. He went after the league itself.
“I’m the guy that says what others can’t. #PBA games are fixed. They control who is in & who is out. It’s a disgrace to be in this league. I can accept losing to teams. But I can’t accept losing bcoz of referees…” Allado had posted in his Twitter account. But barely 48 hours later he retracted his statements. PBA Commissioner Chito Salud promptly came down hard on the player: a fine of P500,000 and a one-conference ban. Count the salary and potential bonuses Allado would have missed out on during that ban, and his bank account would have taken a huge hit. The man never had a chance. He was toast when he appeared before Salud with no proof of his game-fixing claim. And very few believed that he had proof.
Game-fixing is a complex, multilayered activity that leaves no paper trail, only dead-ends. The Inquirer should know. In July 2009 it ran a 3-part report on game-fixing in the collegiate leagues, and the only evidence gathered to prove that the practice existed came from eyewitness accounts. Players admitted receiving payoffs on the condition of anonymity. But there were no receipts, no signed checks. It would be very difficult for the syndicates to infiltrate the PBA. Players are getting paid so much that “investing” in professionals would be counterproductive.
Still, there are those who will entertain the other possibility: that the PBA rushed to its judgment because it did not want light to be shed on the purported shadowy activities. Whatever the case, Allado will certainly not be the last person to question the outcome of games. This is, after all, the post-apocalyptic era of the PBA, when it’s no longer about individual ball clubs chasing trophies. There are two moneyed groups that own multiple squads and a few Mad Maxes hoping to bring down those establishments. And every time the big teams triumph, there will always be allegations of manipulation, of the league’s tournament authorities being in the pocket of these squads.
The House of Representatives’ committee on sports and development made noises about conducting an inquiry if it was dissatisfied with the PBA’s own probe, but Allado’s public retraction would appear to close this chapter. Yet not even the heaviest of penalties can hush the whispers of game-fixing. How to put an end to the chatter? As the Allado incident showed, it is proving that the practice exists.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.