ABL existence in peril due to COVID-19 pandemic

Published July 9, 2020, 5:23 PM

by Jonas Terrado

After 10 seasons, is the ABL closing shop?
In this file photo, coach Jimmy Alapag draws a play for Alab Pilipinas in the ASEAN Basketball League, which hangs in peril due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (ABL Images)

The ASEAN Basketball League is in danger of folding after 10 seasons due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Multiple websites reported Thursday that the regional league chose not to renew the contracts of Chief Executive Officer Jericho Ilagan and his staff composed mostly of Filipinos as a way to cut costs as the virus continues to spread.

Ilagan was not available for comment while San Miguel Alab Pilipinas owner Charlie Dy said he has not been aware of any decision by the ABL to close shop.

The likely closure of the league was pinpointed to the major losses suffered by its biggest backer AirAsia, which reported a net loss of almost $188 million (P9.3 billion), leaving the ABL to endure operational woes.

If the closure becomes official, it would be a sad end to the league that gained strides since it opened shop back in October 2009.

Six teams, namely the eventual champion Philippine Patriots, Indonesia’s Satria Muda BritAma, Singapore Slingers, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Dragons, Brunei Barracudas and Thailand Tigers, participated in the inaugural season.

Other clubs from Thailand, Vietnam’s Saigon Heat and the 2013 champion San Miguel Beermen had either brief or long tenures in the league before adding a non-ASEAN team in 2017 with the entry of Hong Kong Eastern.

The ABL later welcomed to its fold two teams from Taiwan and two from Macau even as Alab Pilipinas — the third Filipino team to join the league after the defunct Patriots and Beermen — became a regular fixture in the league and won the 2018 crown.

This season was supposed to be a celebration of ABL’s 10 years of existence, even naming 10 of its greatest players. But the pandemic forced the league to suspend the season indefinitely last March.

Alab, Thailand’s Mono Vampire, Kuala Lumpur, Taiwan’s Formosa Dreamers and Fubon Braves, Macau’s Black Bears and Wolf Warriors, Singapore, Hong Kong and Saigon had completed almost three-fourths of the season when the ABL was suspended.

Ilagan said in May that the league could resume in October, but that may not be the case with the reported closure.