TEAMS seeing action in the third and final window of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Asia Cup Qualifiers this week began to make their way to the “bubble” at Clark City in Angeles, Pampanga, on Sunday.

First to arrive were the Korean and Philippine national teams, with five more squads due to follow suit later on Sunday and Monday. The teams will play in two groups in the competition scheduled for June 16 to 20.

Officials of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) and Clark Development Corp. (CDC) were physically present at the Quest Hotel in Mimosa to welcome the arrival of Team Korea and Gilas Pilipinas while executives of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) virtually witnessed it.

The BCDA and CDC expressed excitement over the event finally taking place after being postponed twice early this year. They, too, hope that the qualifiers would be the first of more international competitions they get to host and portent of the return to some form of normalcy.

“This is the first international sporting event since we went through this very difficult time. Seeing Gilas Pilipinas compete here at home is such a welcome sight and gives us so much hope that we are towards the tailend of this difficult time,” said BCDA President and Chief Executive Officer Vince Dizon in the media briefing at the teams’ arrival.

The SBP shared the same thrill and that it is looking forward to the successful staging of the FIBA window.

“We cannot overemphasize our gratitude for (BCDA and CDC’s) valuable support to make this event take place after a couple of earlier postponements because of the challenges of the pandemic. But through your kind and strong assistance, finally we are here,” SBP Executive Director Sonny Barrios said.

The third window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers was originally to take place in February but was postponed weeks before because of the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus which resulted in the government raising safety restrictions for in-bound visitors.

Qatar stepped up to host the event but it, too, had to cancel last minute because of coronavirus concerns.

SBP took it as an opportunity to push through with its hosting plans and eventually got the FIBA nod to host the remaining matches in Groups A and B.

For the competition at hand, the organizers are drawing from their experience in the successful holding of the Philippine Basketball Association bubble last year.

They are coordinating with all concerned national and local government agencies and have aligned their efforts as well to those set up by FIBA.

In the Clark bubble, the movement of players, coaches and staff will be limited to within the airport, hotels and the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center where the tournament will be held. Designated hotels are Quest Hotel & Conference Center and the Lohas Hotel in Redwood Villas, both in the Clark Freeport Zone.

Foreign participants are required to take RT-PCR tests 12 days, seven days and two days before departure to the Philippines. They must also secure RT-PCR tests on the day of arrival, four days after arrival, and before departure if required by the country of destination.

Members of the Gilas Pilipinas are covered by the protocols. And so do FIBA and SBP personnel, hotel, transport and ancillary staff, and other staff from TV5, PLDT and Smart, who are official partners of FIBA.

In case a bubble participant tests positive for the coronavirus, the individual would immediately be isolated and undergo a confirmatory test a day after. Contact tracing would be conducted within a few hours after detection.

Apart from the Philippines and Korea, also seeing action in the FIBA bubble are China, Chinese-Taipei, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo