Basketball and boxing–the contrast is unavoidable

BASKETBALL AND BOXING are bookends from our sports sob story. The contrast between the two athletic disciplines is unavoidable.
Basketball, like politics, is our national pastime but the source of frustration on the world stage. Boxing, on the other hand, is the national relief, the wellspring of pride nourished by the triumphs of iconic fighters, from Flash Elorde to Manny Pacquiao and Olympic simonpures, from Anthony Villanueva to Mansueto Velasco.
So when it comes to screening athletes to the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou in November, boxers should get priority—the first dibs at being selected—right?
Not quite. While officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas are probably taking a victory lap, their counterparts at the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines are most likely waving the initial list of Asiad-bound athletes at each other’s faces with disgust.
Why? Because the men’s basketball team, by virtue of the criteria established by the Philippine Olympic Committee, is an automatic entry. The boxers, when measured against the same benchmarks, are not.
The POC standards are crystal clear. Athletes in individual events and team sports get a ticket to Guangzhou if: They’ve won at least a bronze medal in the Asian Games or any Asian-level competition sanctioned or calendared by the international bodies of the individual sports; or are owners of a gold medal from the Southeast Asian Games. Athletes with potential and who are 18 years or younger can make the grade via the “developmental” aspect of the POC process.
The men’s basketball team made the Asiad delegation in a breeze. The team, with one hand tied behind the back, demolished the token competition to win the gold in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, in 2007. It would have retained the SEA Games crown with its brain half cocked had there been cage competitions in Vientiane in 2009.
But Guangzhou 2010 is a different animal for a national basketball team that has not gained traction in foreign stints this year.
Noli Eala, the SBP executive director, acknowledges that the team has not found the silver bullet to make an impression in China this year. Neither does he expect their program, run by Serbian coach Rajko Toroman, to “come together until 2011.”
Toroman was signed to a lucrative contract by the SBP in 2008 to prepare the national team called Smart Gilas for overseas competitions.
The previous years are basically “building years,” under Toroman’s tenure, says Eala, although the coach has had a propensity for feeding the public false hopes with pronouncements that the team is now ready to go head to head with Asian basketball powerhouses.
Toroman’s current team has undergone changes, as often as a traffic light changes colors, to find the right mix of players. It is obvious that the squad is not ready for prime time and will not be ready for a long, long time.
Nevertheless, Eala said the target is to make the Asiad semifinals, however arduous or Quixotic that goal might be.
Meantime, Abap’s people are scratching their heads. So far, they have qualified only two of seven boxers they want to bring for Guangzhou.
Charlie Suarez in the men’s 51-kilogram category and Annie Albania in the women’s 52 kg limit have made it by virtue of the POC’s qualifying standards. But the rest of the crew, including a 29-year-old in the 60 kg category, are still awaiting confirmation.
On paper, it appears that the rest of the Abap boxers have sterling credentials. Their records of performance, however, do not conform to the POC’s yardstick.
It turns out that the gold, silver, or bronze medals to their names were won in invitational events with a doubtful cast of competitors or not sanctioned and pencilled by the Aiba, the governing body of amateur boxing.
The most recent of these events was the First MVP International Boxing Friendship Cup. Ironically, the Aiba chief attended the opening rites of the six- or seven-nation event bankrolled by the godfather of both amateur boxing and basketball.
Ed Picson, the Abap executive director currently with the boxers at a training camp in California, says Joey Romasanta, the country’s chief of mission to the Asiad, has been convinced by the “soundness of our request” (to include all seven boxers).
Ed said by e-mail that  “the gist of it is boxing has traditionally given the country its best hopes for medals in the Asiad.”

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