Hope is kindled

Notwithstanding the health and safety risks, the economic impact on professional athletes weighed heavily on the decision of government agencies to sign the joint administrative order (JAO), paving the way for pro teams in the country to restart their training.

“The bedrock of the IATF’s (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) approval to allow pro sports to resume is the ‘no-play, no-pay’ rule,” admitted Games and Amusements Board (GAB) Chair Abraham Mitra, one of the three signatories in the JAO along with Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chair William Ramirez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

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“The IATF and DOH (Department of Health) recognized pro sports as a source of livelihood. Nonpro sports under the jurisdiction of the PSC are different because amateur athletes are entitled to financial allowances from the government through PSC.”

The release of the JAO, despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country in the last two weeks, gave the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and the Philippines Football League (PFL) a glimmer of hope that they can push through with their tournaments this year even with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Calling the development the biggest breakthrough since the Philippine Cup was suspended in March, the PBA welcomed the JAO, which allows team workouts with a maximum of five players in areas under general community quarantine and a maximum of 10 players under modified general community quarantine.

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said the development could also move the league’s timeline in making the decision to resume the season to September from August.

“We’re very grateful to the government,” said Marcial, who disclosed that the league has been losing P30 million a month since play was stopped.

“This is the biggest breakthrough for the PBA since we decided to stop the season last March. This is a huge step to saving our season. Right now, we’re looking at late next week to start training then I will be proposing to the PBA board to extend on making the decision about the season to September.”Marcial said the league’s next move is to schedule teams for swab testing at Makati Medical Center.

The release of the JAO has been awaited ever since an IATF resolution allowing training of pro teams was announced early this month.

Marcial said the DOH actually added a few more stipulations in the JAO, including the credentials of the safety officer assigned to oversee training. “They are requiring safety officers to have a medical background,” Marcial said. “Of course, we have to follow that.”

While PBA teams have their respective practice facilities, the PFL has already prepared the National Training Centre inside the San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite, for use of all participating clubs.

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An initial round of swab tests was conducted on July 8 that saw all 155 players and staff of the six PFL clubs test negative for COVID-19.

“We thank the GAB, PSC, and DOH for signing the JAO and we look forward to the clubs to prepare for the PFL 2020 season,” said Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta. “Our job is to make sure the protocols are followed. Cooperation and transparency will be important moving forward.”Mitra said the actual resumption of competitions will depend on the success of the health protocols for the pro teams. —With a report from Denison Ray A. Dalupang INQ

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