Will FIBA 2023 Basketball World Cup in Manila generate excitement just like FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar?


Sonny Coloma

My closest experience with a spontaneous celebration of a football World Cup championship happened in 2002. While riding a tour bus in Lisbon, Portugal, I witnessed a motorcade of jubilant fans celebrating Brazil’s 2-0 victory over Germany. Honking their horns, they shouted “Vitoria,” Portuguese for victory, as they spoke the same native language as the triumphant Brazilians.

But that could not match the electric atmosphere at Lusail stadium in Doha, Qatar last Sunday, Dec. 18, when Argentina won the 2022 World Cup, 4-2, on a penalty shootout after their 120-minute match resulted in a 3-3 draw.

Beamed on online TV channels, the FIFA World Cup games generated considerable interest among Filipino fans eager to witness quality games from rated players who earn the biggest paychecks among athletes.

It was only after the halftime break that I managed to start viewing the match and by that time, Argentina was ahead 2-0. With only 10 minutes left, Kylian Mbappe scored two goals within two minutes, forcing the game into two extra periods. In the 109th minute, Lionel Messi completed a fierce Argentinian attack, bringing the score to 3-2 until Mbappe scored on another penalty kick two minutes before extra time expired.

The two titans, who are teammates in Qatar-owned Paris Saint Germain, scored their team’s first goals in the penalty shootout. But Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez foiled France’s next two penalty kicks before Gonzalo Montiel — who earlier committed the handball infraction that Mbappe converted into the tying goal in extra period — drilled in the penalty kick past French skipper and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’ flailing hands. That signaled the start of Argentina’s first World Cup victory party since 1986 when they were led by then 25-year old superstar Diego Maradona.

Football has fascinated me since I was in grade school in Don Bosco Makati in the early 60s. The Salesian fathers believed in the preventive system of education. Bosconians were trained using a dual-track academic and technical-vocational program complemented by sports-dominated extra-curricular activities. Our school campus on Pasong Tamo and Arnaiz streets had two large football fields that were also used for other sports like softball. Basketball and volleyball were played in the gymnasium and covered courts.

As early as in grade school, we were encouraged to join recreational as well as religion-oriented clubs. We were trained to serve in daily mass when the priest’s back was still turned to the people and Latin prayers were used.  “Play, jump, run but do not sin!” read a sign painted on the wall of the gym.

Despite this, football is a second-tier sport in basketball-crazy Philippines. In 2010, a glimmer of hope flickered, as the Philippine Azkals created excitement by being competitive in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), finishing second in 2014 to Palestine in the AFC Challenge Cup and qualifying for the finals in the 2019. Gerrit Holtmann, Neil Etheridge, and R. Obermair are the three leading football players of Filipino-European parentage who are still actively playing in commercial leagues.

The Philippine women’s national football team, known as Filipinas, won the Asian Football Federation championship in 2022, thereby sparking fresh hopes for prominence in a sport that has yet to become more popular in their homeland.

Come August and September 2023, the spotlight will shift to basketball as the Philippines plays host to the Group Phase and Final Phase of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, along with co-hosts Okinawa, Japan and Jakarta, Indonesia. Venues for the Group Phase are the Araneta Coliseum and Mall of Asia Arena, while the 52,000-seat Philippine Arena in Santa Maria, Bulacan will host the championship round games.

Expect the Filipino fans to demonstrate their enthusiastic support to their home team, the Gilas Pilipinas, that has shown its grit and determination against rated opponents. Many of the young stars are currently playing in the highly competitive Japan and South Korea commercial leagues, as well as in the local PBA contests.

Will the FIBA 2023 Basketball World Cup in Manila games draw as much excitement and interest as the just-ended FIFA World Cup games in Qatar?  Abangan.