Give And Go

On Monday night, this writer got a rare opportunity to cover a “high stakes” basketball game played behind closed doors.
While I must admit there was this sense of “pride” of being one of only few people to watch the contest live, still there was this feeling of weirdness to it all.
I am talking, of course, of the match between Team Pilipinas and Qatar in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers that took place on Sept. 17 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The closed-door setting was part of the sanctions meted by world basketball governing body FIBA on the Philippines for its involvement in the infamous brawl that took place against Australia on July 2 in Bulacan.
The Philippines defeated Qatar, 91-82, but not after having made to sweat by the visiting side for much of the contest.
The win improved the standing of the Filipinos in the ongoing tournament to 5-3, still on track to move on to the next phase if they get to sustain such.
Seeing all those empty seats at the Big Dome for a Gilas/Team Pilipinas was truly “surreal.”
As per the local organizers, there were only 220 of us inside the venue who got to witness the game unfold.
Eighty of those were members of media, 30 each from the Philippine and Qatar basketball teams, 30 FIBA delegates and 50 VIPs.
Such number was in stark contrast from the thousands of people who usually trek to the venues to watch the Philippine national men’s basketball team play.
A collective feeling among those at the Big Dome on Monday night was that of strangeness.
National team coach Yeng Guiao joked postgame that before he could not hear his instructions to his players with all the noise but that night he could even hear the instructions of the coach of the other team.
The Filipino players, too, felt the absence of the crowd, saying they missed the cheering of the hometown fans especially when they were struggling early in the game.
True, the whole closed-door game experience has some “aura” to it but I hope nothing of that would take place anytime soon because it is just not right, more so involving games of the national teams.
Such should be a platform to express and celebrate a nation’s pride, win or lose, and without the support of the people right there it just does not add up.
Of course, the rationale surrounding it was not without basis, but still one cannot help but rue such circumstances.
It remains to be seen if home games of Team Pilipinas in the fifth window of the tournament slated for Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 would still be played closed doors but here is hoping that they would not be.
Bring the celebration back and allow us to rally behind our team.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.