NOVEMBER was a busy stretch for world basketball governing body International Basketball Federation (FIBA) as it hosted a number of Continental Cup qualifiers; an effort it took pride in as these were successfully staged despite a myriad of challenges.

Done in extraordinary circumstances because of the ongoing situation with the global coronavirus pandemic, FIBA pushed through with the continental qualifiers last month after action was suspended early this year.

Seventy-eight qualifying games, which featured 72 teams and 870 players from around the world, were played in protected environment “bubbles” across 15 different cities in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

Under the bubble, tournament participants were holed up in a specific area to allow them to have a close contact in a very defined and exclusive setup to guard against the spread of the coronavirus and so as to have less disruption.

Guided by health and safety protocols it has set up, done in consultation with various groups, particularly the World Health Organization, FIBA was happy to report that extensive precautionary measures were successfully and consistently implemented throughout the staging.

In all bubbles, it reported, only four games were postponed as protocols were applied.

FIBA said it was a testament to its “capacity to organize operations safely on such a large scale with its regional offices.”

In the lead-up to the qualifiers, where the Philippines participated in (Asia) and went 2-0 in its games in Bahrain, FIBA made sure it covered all the bases with the health and safety of all participants in mind.

In preparation for the qualifiers, 18 webinars were organized to increase the understanding and awareness of the coronavirus protocols among the hosts, participating national federations and local authorities, with more than 400 participants in total.

To ensure a safe environment in the bubbles, all athletes and team members had to present two negative coronavirus tests before travelling to the bubbles — with one test done no later than 72 hours before the departure and another one five days previously.

Participants were tested again upon arrival. More than 5,000 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests were submitted before travelling and more than 4,000 PCR tests were organized on-site.

To help it in its conduct of the Continental Cup Qualifiers, FIBA drew from its experience previously of hosting events in bubbles from the FIBA 3×3 World Tour 2020, the Basketball Champions League Qualifiers and Final 8, as well as the recently concluded FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2021 Qualifiers.

Next for FIBA is the third and final window of the Continental Cup Qualifiers in February next year, which will also be done in bubbles.

Meanwhile, the country serving as host for one of the bubbles in the third window could be a possibility after the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas offered the Philippines as a site.

SBP said it has reached out to FIBA and is eyeing Clark, Pampanga, as the bubble venue.

The local basketball federation has also talked to officials of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority for the bubble hosting, similar to what the Philippine Basketball Association has done. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo