The heavy scrutiny on the performance of the men’s basketball team in the recent Asian Games may have created a diversion from yet another disastrous outing by Team Philippines. But we are making one thing clear before we focus on the misdirection: We are not blaming the athletes, who put up a gallant stand in the Incheon Asiad, for the debacle.
This has to do with our sports officials and the lack of a creditable sporting program that can save us from the tar pits in international meets. It is one thing to have the bravest, most patriotic swordsmen under one’s command; it is another to willfully send them off to a war fought with guns and bombs.
We have one message to our sports officials: Enough already.
It’s time Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, handed the reins to a less politicized, less polarizing leader. His numbers speak for his leadership: The country’s gold-medal haul in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games has decreased with every edition since he established his sporting fiefdom. And he has no Olympic medal to show.
Philippine Sports Commission chief Richie Garcia also needs to surrender his post to someone who can disburse government funds independently and to a long-term program that compartmentalizes the SEA Games, the Asian Games and the Olympics, and identifies—strictly—the athletes we send to these events. Garcia tried to add another layer of diversion by training our sights on next year’s SEA Games, where he boldly directed Team Philippines to aim for a fourth-place finish. But our medal haul in Incheon validated what last year’s SEA Games showed: The Philippines is now ranked seventh in the region.
Don’t get us wrong. We are seeking change, not because we believe change will catapult us to the top of the medal tally, but because our athletes deserve more than being part of a delegation that bags a solitary gold medal despite the Philippines’ immense wealth of talent.
There have been previous one-gold—and even zero-gold (1974, Tehran)—performances by Team Philippines in the Asian Games: in 1990 (Beijing) and 1998 (Bangkok). Interestingly, those Asiad editions marked the last two times the men’s basketball team won a medal.
This time, there was no basketball medal to soothe the wounded Team Philippines after leaving Incheon—unless one was given for best cheap trick, which the team’s coaching staff would have won hands down for that desperate ploy near the end of a 2-point win against Kazakhstan. Knowing the team needed an 11-point victory to make the quarterfinals, coach Chot Reyes instructed Marcus Douthit to—horrors—shoot at Kazakhstan’s goal and try to force overtime. The referees nullified the shot without so much as a “ha-ha, nice try,” and Gilas Pilipinas was sent off to its worst finish in the Asiad.
There was a touch of hypocrisy in the ploy. Reyes had earlier said it would be very “un-Gilas” for the team to drop a game just to match up against a more favorable opponent. Yet he defended the move to shoot at Kazakhstan’s goal, saying it was the last recourse—although apparently, the loophole they tried to exploit did not exist in the first place—for a team that, he later said, began to unravel after a loss to Qatar.
Basketball legend Ramon Fernandez, in a scathing e-mail to certain journalists, slammed Reyes’ account of the Incheon flop. He called Douthit’s shot a “dastardly act” that tarnished the “sacrifices, blood, sweat” of teams that had previously carried the flag. Besides, Fernandez said, Gilas Pilipinas came undone way before the Qatar loss. “It’s like [it went] to battle not knowing the terrain and what kind of ammunition… you need to bring to win,” he said. Gilas Pilipinas didn’t know it would need to recall Douthit because Andray Blatche would be struck down with eligibility issues. The team didn’t know shooting at the opponents’ hoop would be disallowed.
The team apparently didn’t know the repercussions of Douthit’s “disciplinary” benching during a meltdown against South Korea, which certainly did. “No one could have stopped Douthit. Our big men are young and inexperienced,” said a Korean basketball official after the host country eventually won the crown.
Meanwhile, the only people who seem to have benefited from the Philippines’ misfortunes on the hard court are the officials responsible for yet another poor overall performance in yet another major international meet. They get to hide behind the madness generated by Reyes’ failure to lead Gilas Pilipinas to a respectable finish.
It’s said that no one is as blind as those who refuse to see. From what we’ve seen, we’ve had enough already.
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