Consistent with many other irrational things that we Filipinos persist on doing — basketball continues to be our country’s most popular sport. Basketball popularity here is irrational because we’ll never develop the height and the heft to be competitive internationally. So why spend so much time and resources on it?
To overcome that genetic handicap, we’ve resorted to cheating – enlisting foreign players to play for the national team. A sport is one opportunity for promoting fair play, magnanimity in victory and equanimity in defeat – but over here it has deteriorated into another avenue for cheating. How can we really take pride in winning the 2012 William Jones Cup when it was clear that we had enlisted a 6-11 African-American, Marcus Douthit, without whom the victory couldn’t have been possible? That’s our damaged culture at work again. For a hollow victory, we’re willing to be branded as cheaters.
Lately, what’s disturbing is the increasing amount of roughness and dirty tactics being applied against competing players that have been happening in the most popular collegiate basketball league – the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines). Basketball creator, Dr. James Naismith, meant it to be played as a non-contact sport. Naismith’s original 13 rules outlawed shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent.
A good example of today’s roughness in the UAAP competitions was the game last August 29 between the defending champions, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles, versus the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, last season’s runner-up. Ateneo and FEU were ranked number 1 and 2, respectively, leading to that August 29 game. That set the stage for both teams to give their 110 percent effort to win the August 29 game and attain a psychological advantage in the finals.
Two players from FEU and one from Ateneo were ejected from the playing court during that game – Mark Belo and Arvie Bringas of FEU and JP Erram of Ateneo. Bringas ended with a two game suspension, one from the league and the other imposed by FEU for his spitting at the Ateneo bench during a tense moment of that game. FEU did well to make that case against its own player, a key power forward at that. Spitting is a manifestation of how low a person regards another, or others. That attitude has no place in sports, unless they decide to stage a spitting competition. The attitude, if not corrected, could lead to worse encounters.
The same FEU players, Arvie Bringas and Mark Belo were again suspended by UAAP Commish Ato Badolato last September 14 for rough and unsportsmanlike play. Another FEU player, Roger Pogoy, received a warning. In our Ateneo egroup last September 15, quite a number of my schoolmates were incensed over the information that an FEU Assistant Coach, Ronald Magtulis, had reportedly challenged Ateneo player Nico Salva to a fistfight.
In fairness to the league and the team managers, we can see that there are sincere efforts to curb ruffianism on the playing court. Why not – ruffianism could discourage game attendance when parents start fearing for the safety of their kids. Ruffianism could compel advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship. There’s no profit in ruffianism for the UAAP.
For the team coach and manager, ruffianism is a big distraction from the game plan. Only a psychotic coach will assign one of his players to hurt the star player of the opposing team. It can only result in unpredictable consequences. Commissioner Ato Badolato was quick to talk to his referees in order to control the August 29 Ateneo-FEU game before matters get out of hand. Tighter calls ensued but that didn’t stop the roughhouse tactics.
No doubt, consistent officiating is the best antidote to preventing ruffians from doing their thing. Nothing enrages players more than the perceived unequal application of the rules. The disadvantaged team then employs dirty tactics, on the misguided notion that it’s the equalizer. This is also when suspicions of game fixing syndicates bribing referees to secure a game outcome keep reemerging. When officiating has been rigged, the victimized team would tend to lose its composure and temper. Riots in the venue could also happen when the game fixing becomes blatant.
The problem of the referees can be traced to the evolution of contact rules in basketball. Basketball has reverted from its original concept of a non-contact sport to what sometimes approximate full contact martial arts, the way some ruffians have misinterpreted the rules. The problem is made complex because we cannot play basketball here with rules that are different from basketball rules in other countries. It’s imperative that league officials keep the referees on their toes and unconnected to game fixers.
The passion for the alma mater propels the popularity of the UAAP basketball competitions. The amateur’s passion makes for great spectator sports events. However, this passion can easily divert to destructive expressions when rules are not strictly enforced and when there are suspicions of game fixing. It’s a matter of self-preservation for the UAAP to keep the basketball games clean, fair and wholesome.
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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”