WE were, along with the rest of the country, sadly disappointed by the outcome of last Friday’s selection of China to host the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball tournament.
We believe that despite the country’s shortcomings in infrastructures and amenities to offer a large number of visiting athletes and fans, having already met the minimum requirements imposed by FIBA and advanced to being one of the two finalist nations, and given nearly four years to prepare for the actual event (most of it under a new and hopefully more capable government), the Philippines could have hosted a successful and memorable tournament.
Alas, FIBA (which is an acronym for the association’s name in French, Fédération Internationale de Basketball) selected China instead. It is a decision we cannot criticize in light of the naïve, poorly-prepared, and frankly embarrassing bid our sports officials presented to the governing body.
FIBA’s decision was based on four factors: Vision and concept; the candidate country’s experience in hosting events; basketball history in the country; and cities and venues available for the event. In making its bid, China highlighted its experience in hosting big international sporting events such as the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 Asian Games, and the 2014 Youth Olympics. China offered no fewer than eight cities with international-standard venues where games could be held, and pointed out that all its proposed tournament locations are connected by a well-developed transportation infrastructure. And of course, China features a market of more than a billion people, among whom basketball is hugely popular, in part because of the country’s exposure to America’s National Basketball Association through native Chinese superstars like Yao Ming.
It was a formidable presentation on China’s part, and the country really did deserve to win the bid, because what did the Philippines officials offer as an alternative? Something they described as “heartware,” a combination of the Philippines’ endless passion for basketball and social media usage.
In other words, the Philippine delegation was banking on enthusiasm. As former coach Chot Reyes put it in his speech to the FIBA officials, “From our heart we say, ‘The whole world will see how much we love basketball.’”
That is frankly embarrassing. While it is true that basketball is enormously popular in the Philippines, to insinuate that our national enthusiasm is somehow superior to other people’s is rather childish. To argue that enthusiasm transcends the shortcomings in our actual capabilities to stage a large event is ridiculous.
A dose of reality
It is ridiculous because the FIBA World Cup tournament is, just like any similar sporting event, not about some esoteric honor being paid to the concept of athletic competition, but about actual money being paid – in ticket sales, merchandise, broadcast and branding rights, plane tickets, hotel rooms, food, drink, and entertainment – to the vast number of participants in the event. “Love of basketball” is so basic a prerequisite that it’s hardly worth mentioning. The bid of any country even interested in hosting the tournament surely starts with “our people are fans of the game;” that Philippine sports officials would even think that was enough and not progress very far beyond that in making their pitch is, again, a great embarrassment.
The Philippine delegation, led by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manuel V. Pangilinan, didn’t just lose the country a chance to host a tournament; they lost the country a huge financial windfall. The real losers are the thousands of hotels, shops, restaurants, transport drivers, mall operators and small vendors who now will not benefit from an influx of basketball fans, as well as the government, who now will not collect millions in extra tax revenues, because the best our representatives to FIBA could come up with is, “We really, really like basketball.”
That’s an expensive failure, and one we cannot help but think could have been avoided with a more serious, thoughtful approach. “Sorry, we did our best, but at least we learned something” is not sufficient; there must be consequences, to impress upon our hubris-filled, short-sighted sports authorities that such a failure must not be allowed to happen again.