MVP seeks DFA help to resolve Lassiter, Lutz case
WUHAN, China—The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide a certification reaffirming the citizenship of Smart Gilas stalwarts Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter.
SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan met with Fiba Asia deputy secretary general Hagop Khajirian before the national team’s game against host China last night and lobbied hard for the reinstatement of both players.
Pangilinan said they’re just waiting for the DFA to send the reaffirmation, copies of which Fiba Asia will be furnished and the Fiba Central Board in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We’re waiting for the reply of the DFA, which I believe is positive,’’ said Pangilinan. “We’re grateful to the government for helping.’’
But for how long it will take for the DFA to send those documents, the telecommunications and utilities mogul doesn’t know.
“That one I don’t know. We will lobby hard. Once Fiba received these documents, I’ll ask Hagop for another meeting,’’ said Pangilinan.
“It’s only the first round. But in the second round, we definitely need them (Lutz and Lassiter).’’
Smart Gilas operations chief Butch Antonio earlier said Fiba legal affairs head Benjamin Cohen had suggested to let Lassiter and Lutz suit for the national team as naturalized players.
Fiba Asia allows only one naturalized player per country. Marcus Douthit already owns that spot with Smart Gilas.
Lassiter and Lutz, two solid pillars of the PH five’s bid to qualify for the London Olympics next year, were barred from playing during the team’s 92-52 whipping of United Arab Emirates in the Thursday night opener of the Asian championship at the Wuhan Gymnasium.
After facing China, Smart Gilas will meet Bahrain at the end of the first round Friday, games these players were also bound to skip if Fiba Asia officials remain firm on their decision.
Citing Article 3-21 of the Fiba internal regulations, Khajirian said Lutz and Lassiter should present proof that they acquired Filipino citizenship before reaching the age of 16 lest they would be considered naturalized players under Fiba rules.
Khajirian showed a letter dated Aug. 30 calling the attention of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas on the eligibility of Lutz and Lassiter and instructing federation officials to resolve the matter prior to the tournament.
Smart Gilas operations chief Butch Antonio said SBP executive director Sonny Barrios and consultant Moying Martelino have been burning the lines with Fiba secretary general Patrick Baumann and Cohen in Geneva, Switzerland, to reverse the ruling.
Khajirian said both players have been issued Philippine passports after their 16th birthday, thereby making them naturalized players under Fiba rules.
Born and raised in the United States with Filipino mothers, Lutz and Lassiter are natural-born Filipinos under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
“These two guys are Filipinos, they have Filipino blood. In the law of the Philippines, they are Philippine citizens. The rules are the same in the last 20 years,’’ said Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman.
“If somebody from Ivory Coast with Filipino blood came to the Philippines and wants to play, must he come to the country before turning 16?’’ added Toroman.
Lutz, who played for US NCAA Division I Marshall University, is 26 while Lassiter, a former University of California-Fullerton starter, is the youngest Smart Gilas at 23.
Khajirian claimed that Fiba regulations on naturalized players were being implemented for more than a decade now and yet Filipino-American players Kelly Williams and Gabe Norwood didn’t go through the same ordeal in the 2007 Asian championship held in Tokushima, Japan.
“That’s the regulation. Present any document which can prove that they acquired citizenship before 16 and they can play in the next game,” said Khajirian.
Five players from Qatar, two from Lebanon and one from Syria were also not spared by Fiba Asia’s eligibility crackdown.
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