Philippine sports confront worst-case scenario: Likely no tournaments, events for rest of 2020

Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2020 05:57 AM

Philippine sports confront worst-case scenario: Likely no tournaments, events for rest of 2020 1
Given the virulence of COVID-19, sports officials acknowledge they’re in no rush to return to action, saying they wouldn’t want to gamble on people’s lives. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

It was supposed to be a hectic week in domestic sports. 

The Season 82 finals in UAAP women’s volleyball would have been underway, as other university competitions wound down. The PBA, celebrating its 45th season, would have been at the midpoint of its centerpiece conference, the Philippine Cup. The top junior athletes throughout the country would have been a day away from participating in the annual Palarong Pambansa in Marikina. 

Throughout the country, athletic events would have gone on as they have had for months, years, decades.

Until the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic happened.

“It’s safe to say nobody really expected it to be of this magnitude,” said UAAP executive director Rebo Saguisag.

Ramon “Tats” Suzara, chief organizer of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, said he doesn’t think anybody in the sports world — internationally and locally — was prepared. 

“This is very unique,” Suzara said. “Kasi sa mga regulations ng sports federation merong (measures) ‘in case of typhoon, earthquake’ but it never mentioned about pandemic. So I think they will make amendments now.”

The health crisis was so fluid that, in a matter of weeks leagues and sports bodies, which stopped competitions outright, are now looking toward a grimmer scenario if they haven’t decided on it already — stopping any form of organized sports activity for the rest of the year.

The Philippine Sports Commission on Wednesday officially became the first national sports institution to announce shutting down its events.

“Bago nag-lockdown, tiningnan namin ang mga nagkansela ng kompetisyon sa buong mundo. Reason will really say na we have to cancel our events up to December,” said PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.

Leagues, meanwhile, remain optimistic that they wouldn’t have to make such a drastic decision, but still they wouldn’t hesitate to go that route if needed. 

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said, “We’re playing it by ear.”

If government eases community restrictions and there’s a clear directive that the PBA can resume activities, he would reopen team practices first, Marcial said. The league played one game in its new season — San Miguel Beer vs. Magnolia on March 8 — before altogether folding the Philippine Cup. 

Even with the lockdown in Metro Manila extended to May 15, Marcial said a June or July opening for a two-conference season can be worked on, or September for one conference.

“Kung papayagan pa (ng gobyerno) at kung may vaccine, pero kailan pa darating sa’tin ’yon?” said Marcial, who added that he knows vaccines won’t be available until later this year, the earliest. 

“Kung hindi pa rin pe-pwede, ika-cancel na natin ang 45th season. No choice tayo. ’Yun ang masakit, pero wala naman tayo magagawa.”

After terminating Season 82 in response to the so-called enhanced community quarantine in Luzon, Saguisag said “Plan A” is to get the league going in September, still around the same time the UAAP typically launches its season, though a January 2021 opening is possible, too, he said.

“But really we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re dependent on what the government will say,” Saguisag said.

COVID-19’s potency isn’t lost on sports officials, who are aware that massive crowds go hand in hand with athletic events, the same kind of environment in which the virus thrives but the government bent on flattening the curve can’t allow to happen.

Ramirez said his office recognized that, amid the extended inactivity and in these dire times, the health of athletes and coaches goes beyond their physical bodies.

“We’ve instructed our sports psychologists and doctors to set up an online sports guidance counselling sa mga atleta sa kani-kaniyang probinsya regarding their fears and anxiety,” the PSC chief said.

Given that the disease presents so many unknowns, stakeholders, if it were up to them, would rather wait for a vaccine to arrive before returning to action. 

“Walang vaccine, walang solusyon talaga sa coronavirus,” Ramirez said. 

“Wala munang assembly of people more than 10 (people), so how can you play, have a sports event? Magkakahawa ang mga athlete.”

As of Wednesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is at 8,212, according to the Department of Health, with 254 new cases.

Thus far, there have been 558 deaths and 1,023 recoveries overall.

Like Ramirez and Marcial, Saguisag acknowledged nobody would want to gamble on people’s lives.

“Kung ako, personally, we may not be returning for a while,” Saguisag said.

“The consequence just far outweighs the benefit. To gather that many people, it will accelerate the spread.”

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).