MANILA, October 19, 2005 
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - The row between the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) has reached a point of no return. Reconciliation is just not an option anymore.

The BAP is playing its last card, holding the entire country hostage because it continues to be recognized as the country affiliate–even on suspended status–by the all-powerful Federation Internationale de Basketball (FEBA).

The gambit is for nothing more than pride. The BAP is baiting the POC to reinstate it as a National Sports Association (NSA) since it claims that’s the only way the Philippines can play basketball in the coming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

But from the looks of things, POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr. isn’t biting. Reinstating the BAP will mean destroying the integrity of the POC General Assembly’s vote in ousting the discredited organization from its rolls. Is integrity something you barter? Are principles to be compromised for the sake of a SEA Games gold medal?

Sure, basketball is the sport that’s closest to the Filipino’s heart. The BAP knows it and that’s the reason why it’s dangling the dream of a basketball gold to re-legitimize itself.

The fact is the BAP is no longer recognized as an NSA by the POC and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). It has lost its authority to govern and reason to exist. If its only basis for survival is FIBA recognition, then the BAP is an alien in its own land. Doesn’t the BAP realize that Cojuangco isn’t the type to give in to threats?

POC spokesman Joey Romasanta, in a text from Bangkok yesterday, said, "The BAP no longer has any personality (because) hindi na sila NSA." In a nutshell, that put things in perspective.

A letter recently sent by the BAP to FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann to challenge the legitimacy of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by FIBA and the POC exacerbates the situation. The letter can only do more harm than good.

The BAP’s offer to broker the lifting of FIBA’s suspension on the Philippines in exchange for reinstatement as an NSA is no solution to the problem that has hounded the country for years.

The BAP had its chance for redemption. Cojuangco himself offered his hand to assist in repairing the extensive damage the BAP has done to the reputation of Philippine basketball. But after accepting Cojuangco’s hand, the BAP turned around and walked a different path. That kind of double-talk is precisely what has brought Philippine basketball to ruin in the international arena where in the last 12 years, the national squad has not been able to even qualify for the quarterfinals in the Asian championships.

Cojuangco has decided to bite the bullet and stand his ground for a permanent solution to the problem. To reinstate the BAP would be a step back and a return to the bad, old years everyone wants to forget.

Filipinos take basketball seriously and this row can’t just be ignored by the country’s highest leaders.

If the BAP is holding the country hostage, then it’s time for someone with authority to wield the axe and start chopping heads.

It’s too bad the First Gentleman isn’t in town to solve this mess. For sure, he’ll step in and set things right.

The solution is simple. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, acting for President Arroyo, should call the POC and BAP officials to a meeting in Malacañang. They should all be closeted in a room and nobody will be allowed to leave until a solution is reached. The solution, of course, is for the BAP to give up and accept its fate. What’s the use of clutching at straws when there is no future for the BAP without recognition from the POC and PSC? Neither the private nor the public sector will support the BAP so what for is it struggling to survive?

Is the problem too petty for Secretary Ermita to be involved in? I don’t think so because basketball is the Filipino’s passion.

Take the case of Russia. Believe it or not, President Vladimir Putin himself signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to African-American import Robert (J. R.) Holden to play for the national team as a naturalized cager at the recent European championships in Belgrade.

Under FIBA rules, a national team may enlist one naturalized citizen. In the past, the limit was two and it took three years for an application to play for the national team to be approved by FIBA. Today, the limit is one and the eligibility is immediate.

Of course, there are countries that abuse this clause. Lebanon, for instance, suited up at least three foreign players in the last Asian championships in Doha. And Qatar had an array of ringers, too.

So if Putin himself could naturalize an American to strengthen the Russian national team, surely Secretary Ermita–in the President’s name–could intervene and knock some sense into the BAP for the country’s sake.

If the BAP surrenders, then the leadership dispute in Philippine basketball is settled. FIBA is left no choice but to lift the suspension because the crisis will be over.

The BAP insists it can save basketball in the SEA Games and the price is reinstatement by the POC. Luckily, the POC isn’t buying that line.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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