It wasn't close, after all (Philippine Star)

TOKYO The vote was 14-7 for China over the Philippines as the FIBA Central Board settled the issue on which country will host the 2019 FIBA World Cup after the bidders made their audio-visual presentations to support their cause and were subjected to a closed-door, question-and-answer session at the Prince Park Tower Hotel here last Friday.

There were two postponements on the announcement of the decision, fueling speculation of protracted deliberations and a close vote. But when the result was disclosed by FIBA, it wasn’t tight after all. FIBA president Horacio Muratore of Argentina said it was “a very difficult decision” in a diplomatic, if not political, statement. The disparity in the vote didn’t indicate a close call. The Central Board heard what it wanted to hear from the Chinese delegation, a promise to put the country’s vast resources at the FIBA’s disposal and that was the clincher.

SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan, who was at the forefront of the Philippine bid, said there was no hint whatsoever of the Central Board’s leanings when he was brought to the closed-door session with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Sen. Sonny Angara and Octagon Asia-Pacific president Sean Nicholls. The grilling took about 40 minutes as Central Board members took turns in firing questions which were more clarificatory than anything else. New Zealand’s Burton Shipley, head of the FIBA evaluation commission, ended the session by congratulating the Philippine panel for submitting an excellent bid.

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At a press conference before the audio-visuals, Pangilinan said for Filipinos, the World Cup isn’t just a sporting event it’s also a media showcase. He said 10 million overseas Filipinos are the country’s ambassadors of basketball and the Philippines would be ready to turn the World Cup into a global event with a memorable and exceptional experience. Pangilinan mentioned that the hashtag #Puso2019 trended world-wide with over 2 billion impressions in three months and shot to No. 1 as D-Day came. “It’s been a long journey for the Philippines and with our country coming of age, we want to prove to the world that we’re not a one-hit wonder,” he said.

Fil-Am celebrity Lou Diamond Phillips said the Philippines would’ve been prepared to deliver a flawless World Cup with the unique attraction of assembling the greatest, most connected basketball fans on the planet in a perfect environment that is authentic and isn’t manufactured. He conjured visions of a “magical atmosphere in packed arenas with a spirit that unites us in a divided world.” Phillips spoke of “one nation, one heart, one incredible party” and said the Filipinos’ creativity, connectivity and knowhow would bring out the best World Cup ever. He described the Philippines as an emerging powerhouse in Asia and that was born to host the event.

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The audio-visual delved on “planning big, thinking big” with a nation that is connected, efficient, secure and smart. Former Gilas skipper Jimmy Alapag said he’s not much taller than 5-7 actor Al Pacino but as a basketball player, it meant playing with his heart and his head. The insinuation was a country like the Philippines may be dwarfed by a giant like China in size but when it comes to heart and head, it’s a different story.

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Playing a cameo role in the audio-visual was PBA star Willie Miller’s son Andre who appeared as a young boy with aspirations of someday playing in the big leagues. The presentation mentioned that 80 percent of Filipino sports fans consider themselves to be serious basketball fans and that 96 percent of Filipinos support the bid. Rep. Manny Pacquiao was also on video, citing the power of the Filipino fan and inviting FIBA to witness that power at the World Cup.

TV5 Sports head and five-time PBA Coach of the Year Chot Reyes said basketball is a unifying force in the country. “We are a nation united by one dream, one shared passion with a real love that can’t be manufactured,” he said. “We want to take the World Cup to an unprecedented scale, creating an incredible atmosphere for players, sponsors and media. We want to set a new benchmark in fan engagement. Basketball will never be the same again. Bring basketball home, our home.”

The words fell on the Central Board’s deaf ears. While the Philippines attempted to take its bid to another level, FIBA stuck to the traditional dollars-and-cents approach. The Philippine bid had a social component in focusing on youth engagement while China ignored that responsibility. When it came down to brass tacks, FIBA didn’t take a chance on the Philippines because China offered so much more in terms of infrastructure, facilities and resources regardless of media restrictions.

It would’ve been a triumph for developing countries, the Davids of the world, if FIBA gave the Philippines a chance to live a dream and prove its ability to stage a global event. China has hosted so many major sporting events, like the Olympics, that missing out on the World Cup wouldn’t have been a big deal for the Goliath. This was an opportunity for FIBA to recognize the unbridled love of a country for the sport and transcend the usual parameters of deciding the deserving bid. Instead, FIBA chose to swim with the tide and not create its own waves.

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