Sports: Hoping For A Full Comeback

Sev Sarmenta

SEV SARMENTA has covered sports for over three decades. He began his broadcast work in the Philippine Basketball Association and has done 20 seasons of the pro league.

Given all the facets of life that have been shuttered during the pandemic, you would think that sports would be the least important to stage a semblance of a return even as the virus remains. Compared to health safety, community lockdowns, hunger and the need for gainful income, sports concerns right now seem insignificant.

Truthfully, how can society allow the huge crowds that converge for popular sports like basketball, volleyball and boxing with the virus spreading at a rapid pace when people are huddled together? How can sports proceed when the very nature of most games involves physical contact and engagement?

It does seem prudent that sports should be put on hold while governments attempt to contain the spread of the virus and science scrambles to find a viable vaccine.

And yet, clamors for maintaining sound mental health have been voiced out quite vociferously during this pandemic, citing the need for some normality while following health safety guidelines. This is why most of us work-from-home, attempting to be productive even with connectivity issues, the unpredictability of the impact of the tropical storms that we never really get accustomed to and the ennui of being holed up in cabins over an extended period.

This is where sports and a degree of physical engagement can play useful and significant roles. Regular exercise and some form of sports playing can go a long way in dealing with the stress inflicted by the virus on social relations and work.

If proper health safety protocols are followed, some individual exercise regimens outside the home can be pursued as some movement and mobility have already been allowed. Many fitness gyms have begun to hum again with limited patrons inside. Some outdoor activities and sports have been permitted, mostly individual pursuits like jogging, biking and golf. Team play is still discouraged as of this writing, undoubtedly frustrating basketball, volleyball, football and other team games participants.

Sports following can also play a useful role in dealing with the isolation caused by the pandemic. Call it escapist entertainment if you will but Netflix, Tik Tok and all the other streaming and social media platforms provide the same thing while we deal with the boredom of our locked down lives.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) resumed its 45th season in a bubble at the Angeles University Foundation gym in Pampanga while housing teams in the nearby Clark City layout. Photo courtesy of Carlo Paminutan.

Following sports played by top caliber athletes and teams can provide the break from pandemic existence. The US National Basketball Association or NBA resumed its abbreviated season using a “bubble” environment where all players, coaches and officials stayed in one venue.

The season’s completion was played with virtual audiences or images of fans watching digitally and projected at the Disney World venue in Florida. The NBA had economic reasons for reviving their season, with sponsorship deals so essential to even partially make up for lost income from gate receipts, venue refreshment and merchandise.

The NBA bubble required teams that still had the chance to make it to the playoff round to be housed together in the huge Disney entertainment complex that had hotels, sports facilities, golf courses, fishing areas, swimming pools and different forms of recreation. Testing was a constant procedure in the bubble and games were played with as much social distancing as possible like players sitting apart while on the bench and team personnel wearing face masks.

To address the players need to be with their families, the league allowed some wives, children and player parents into the bubble during the later stages of the tournament when teams that were eliminated had left the premises.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) resumed its 45th season in a bubble at the Angeles University Foundation gym in Pampanga while housing teams in the nearby Clark City layout. Photo courtesy of Carlo Paminutan.

The NBA did not encounter any Covid threats in its isolation. It was undoubtedly an expensive endeavor but it worked because the league and its players were willing to submit to protocols and endure the difficulties of being separated from family.

The Philippines has used the NBA bubble as its peg to restart many sports leagues. As of now, only professional sports leagues have been allowed by the government to restart in the Philippines. The 45-year old Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) sought and got permission to continue its season which was closed down after only one game in March. Seven months later, the PBA trooped to the Clark layout in Pampanga, housing teams and players in a single venue under strict health supervision.

The Philippine Football League also managed to play a short bubble tournament at the PFF National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite while using the Seda Hotel Nuvali for accommodations. Three-on-three professional basketball also returned with the Chooks-to-Go President’s Cup with teams housed and competing in the INSPIRE Sports Academy inside the National University-Laguna campus in Calamba.

The Philippine Football League (PFL) completed a short tournament in a “bubble” format at the PFF National Training Center in Carmona, Cavite. Photos by Raymund Braganza, United City FC Photos. Courtesy of Cedelf Tupas.

Professional sports may have the resources to mount these bubble events. Most teams are backed by companies and products and have a promotional interest in sports and are understandably more inclined to provide the means to get their teams and leagues back in action. The bubble approach has been seen to work in containing the spread of the virus among participants but the costs of testing, housing and accommodations may not be for leagues or sports that may not have adequate resources.

The bubble concept may also be more difficult to implement with the popular college sports like the UAAP and the NCAA. As of now face-to-face classes and student activities are not allowed throughout the country so it may seem to be a hindrance for the return of school sports. Training of student-athletes is scheduled to be allowed under strict supervision but there is still no clarity on how school-based tournaments will proceed.

With the pandemic still around and the use of a vaccine still caught in a political puzzle, the huge crowds that once filled up sports venues have now been replaced by empty seats. The deafening roars of faithful fans have been muted and only the shouts of players trying to cheer teammates on remain.

The “bubble” way of restarting sports will have to be the way to proceed for now. The vital presence of fans, who provide the attendance income and the support for sports teams, will have to be on hold. Public consumption of these popular sports will have to be limited for the time being to broadcast, print and online following.

But if there is one thing that sports are good at it’s about providing hope. The game we’re in right now seems like - to use a sports cliché - an uphill climb with the pandemic still with the upper hand and owning what seems like, all the moves. There’s always the possibility of an end-game rally. As long as work is being done for a medical solution and we remain patient and steadfast in following health protocols, then all our individual sporting pursuits and the games played by top-rate teams could return and bring us back fully into sports.


About the Author:

SEV SARMENTA has covered sports for over three decades. He began his broadcast work in the Philippine Basketball Association and has done 20 seasons of the pro league. He has also covered the Olympics twice, the Asian Games thrice and the Southeast Asian Games four times. For eight years, he also wrote a weekly sports column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Currently, he hosts SPORTS PAGE, a thrice-weekly roundtable TV discussion on Cignal/One Sports.

He is the same SEVERINO R. SARMENTA JR. PhD who has taught at the Ateneo Department of Communication for the last 35 years. Aside from serving as department chair for two terms, he has taught Public Relations, Events Management, Performance and Thesis Writing. He continues to be a lecturer there even after his retirement in 2017.


Photo acknowledgements:

Photos of the Philippine Football League (PFL) were photographed by Raymund Braganza, United City FC Photos. Courtesy of Cedelf Tupas

Photos of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) courtesy of Carlo Pamintuan.

Header photo is by Raymund Braganza, United City FC Photos. Courtesy of Cedelf Tupas.

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