MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines did not just lose 10 players to suspension in the aftermath of Gilas Pilipinas' controversial brawl with Australia during a FIBA World Cup Asian qualifying game earlier this month.
For at least one game, the national basketball team will also lose the passionate fans that it has always counted upon to boost the players' spirit and confidence during games.
This, after FIBA announced on Thursday that Gilas Pilipinas will have to play its next home game behind closed doors, as part of the sanctions handed out for its role in the fracas at the Philippine Arena last July 2.
"It will be closed door, meaning walang fans," Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio said Thursday.
That game will be against Qatar, which will be played on September 17. This will be the Philippines' second game of the second round of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers; their first game will be against Iran on September 13.
Anthony Moore, the chief executive of Basketball Australia, noted that having to play a closed-door game was a "pretty hefty sanction" on the Philippines.
"No crowd, no media, no sponsorship, no revenue for that game. So it is a double penalty," Moore said. "It's also probably the last step before suspending them from competition."
Panlilio acknowledged that it was a tough pill to swallow for the Philippines, given how much Filipinos love basketball.
"Masakit. Of course, the people would want to watch live, and the fans have always been our sixth man, helping us in all the competitions," he noted. "It's painful."
At the same time, Panlilio is relieved that the punishment is just for one game. "It could have been three games (behind closed doors) immediately," he pointed out.
Instead, the Philippines will be under a probationary period for three years, with FIBA keeping an even stricter eye than usual on the home games that the country will be hosting.
According to SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, if Gilas Pilipinas' game against Qatar goes smoothly, then its next home game will be open to fans. However, if at any point within the next three years, something untoward again happens during a Gilas game, then FIBA "can drop the boom at us."
"In the next three years, we better not have a similar incident, otherwise we will have (games) behind closed door again," Barrios warned.
Panlilio added: "It is painful to have a closed door game, but I think it's just really driving a lesson to everybody that it could have been done in a better way . . . We have to go through these sanctions, so be it."
So far, the SBP has yet to discuss the logistics of the closed door game with FIBA. Panlilio anticipates that media coverage of the game will be allowed, but could not immediately provide details on how the game will be executed.
"Maybe we'll play it in the Meralco Gym na lang," Panlilio joked.
"But the parameters, we're working on it with FIBA."
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