MANILA, Philippines -- There were hopes that the PBA could have returned to Metro Manila for the Finals of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, but league commissioner Willie Marcial said they ultimately decided to stay in Pampanga for safety reasons.
The PBA held the first part of its conference at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City, but shifted to the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor when it resumed in late August. The league has been in a "semi-bubble" since then, with teams housed in different hotels but playing in the same venue.
Ahead of the best-of-seven Finals series between TNT and Magnolia, Marcial said they could have theoretically gone back to Metro Manila for the championship round.
"Okay naman tayo lumipat sa NCR, kasi two teams na lang," he said.
"Pero tingin namin, mas safe ang mga players doon sa Pampanga," he added.
Metro Manila is currently under COVID-19 Alert Level 3 until October 31. That means that professional sports under a bubble-type setup as approved by the IATF, the Games and Amusements Board, and the Philippine Sports Commission are allowed, assuming that they also get the permission of the local government unit where the games will be held.
But Marcial said that players have already adjusted to their setup in Pampanga.
"Alam na nila 'yung galawan," he said. "Wala na silang masyadong nakakasama, so sa tingin namin, mas safe doon."
"Hindi naman sa hindi safe sa Manila. Pero mas safe doon kasi alam na ang mga diskarte," he added.
Marcial also noted that shifting the PBA games back to Manila requires at least four days of preparation for them to set up the venue. There's also the risk that the alert level will be elevated again, requiring another move back to Pampanga.
"Pero ang kaunahan sa lahat talaga ay 'yung safety," he said. "Okay na sila doon, maayos na sila doon, alam na nila kung ano dapat gagawin."
Still, Marcial is hopeful that the PBA will return to Ynares later this year for their planned second conference.
"Nagpapasalamat po ako kay (Pasig City) Mayor Vico Sotto," he said. "Sa second conference po, babalik po kami diyan at sana po may imports na tayo."