Rules of engagement
You can slice it in a number of ways and the result would still be the same: A brawl erupted in the world qualifier basketball game between the Philippines and Australia.
Almost a week after the punches (and unfortunately, the chairs and bottles as well) were thrown, accusations and apologies are emanating from Manila and Australia to put matters into perspective and hopefully, push the game and the two countries forward in its sports and diplomatic relations.
The time has come to stop attempting to find out who drew first blood and how much more was spilled on the floor. Fiba is already on it. The damage has already been done. At best, what is now needed is healing and a commitment to seeing that this does not happen again in the same explosive way.
Fights in a physical sport like basketball can be expected and will never be eliminated totally. However, the conditions and environment of the game can be managed in order to prevent tempers from flaring and sensitivities being stepped on.
The officiating of the game needs a meticulous review and the referees who were assigned to that tumultuous encounter need time off from the game to learn about managing and controlling a game and the intercultural differences that come when two countries play a physical sport.
Both the Philippine and Australian basketball associations have issued a joint apology and can be expected to try to calm down those involved and the basketball fans of both nations.
The home and away format of the world qualifiers is an engaging framework as it allows home teams to get crowd support while visiting squads get to know another country in the region. But the diplomacy and tact can change once the game gets out of hand and raw emotions engulf the protagonists.
We can expect stricter protocols in the future for venues, security and game management but they should not cause hosts or visitors to be paranoid. Even international bodies with noble intentions have daily political skirmishes and ego challenges but as long as proper behavior and decorum are observed, even the most heated conflicts and debates can be informative and beneficial.
Equating international sports to tribal warfare is a doubled-edged sword. This makes for great drama, crowd support and athletic passion. But even war should be governed by rules of engagement and this is where the brawl at the Philippine Arena should serve as impetus for learning, understanding and better sports.
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