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Eager to see action again, some athletes want family with them if safety means resuming games inside a ‘bubble’

(Second of a series)

It’s a sacrifice. It’s a job. It’s also an obligation to fans. The country’s athletes have different reasons for wanting to return to action even though a vaccine for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has yet to be developed.

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But even as they are raring to go, safety is a prime concern.

“I have a duty to fulfill to my mother team,” Mika Reyes, the Sta. Lucia star in the Philippine Superliga told the Inquirer in an interview on Friday. “I will trust their decision on this. If that’s a sacrifice that I need to do for the greater good, I am willing to do it, but I would like to emphasize on [the need for] safety.”

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“At the end of the day, this is our job as basketball players,” said Barangay Ginebra guard LA Tenorio, a 14-year veteran who has won several championships in the PBA. “This is our way of providing for our families. I’m willing to play as long as all safety protocols are followed.”

Not sacrificing safety

Tenorio and Reyes were two of more than two dozen Filipino athletes polled by the Inquirer if they were willing to see action in the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine. A majority of those surveyed (64 percent) said they would play and trust the safety protocols leagues or tournaments would put in place, with only 16 percent saying they would rather wait out the pandemic. The rest were undecided.

The Associated Press (AP) also interviewed more than two dozen athletes around the world as sports started to shake off the stiffness from monthslong inactivity. A lot of athletes voiced feelings of hesitation about going back to action while a pandemic that shuttered games continues to rage—with deaths mounting to hundreds of thousands worldwide and no cure still in sight.

“We’re not going to sacrifice safety to try and get back to play,” James van Riemsdyk, a forward for the National Hoc­key League’s Philadelphia Flyers, told AP.

‘Bubble environment’

“In Arizona, where I train, and in Texas, where I’m from, you don’t even have enough tests to test the nursing homes consistently. So how are you going to be able to test football players, football staff and fans that are coming to the game every week, multiple times a week or every day?” Kelvin Beachum, a National Football League offensive lineman for three teams over eight seasons, added.

Most of the uncertainty centered on one question: What exactly does safety look like in the absence of a vaccine? Any cure for the COVID-19 pandemic is at least several months away, according to health experts. Some have pegged January 2021 as the earliest release of a vaccine. Several positive developments have emerged from research labs, but they are still in varying stages of clinical trials.

How does a league ensure the protection of its players from a disease with no cure if it does resume action?

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The NBA plans to continue its season by corralling teams inside ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, Florida, creating a stringently secured “bubble environment” that the PBA seems to also favor. But such a scenario requires limiting the number of people inside the cordoned-off area, which means there is a chance that players will be separated from their family.

“I know it is going to be hard being away from our families, but this comes with the job that we do,” Tenorio said.

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Address minority

Several athletes agreed, with almost 77 percent willing to be separated from their families during “bubble tournaments.” But Tenorio and others hope the concerns of the 23 percent are addressed also.

“I don’t think we can force players right now based on the current situation,” Tenorio said. “I hope they won’t take it against these players who won’t play with our setup [and find a solution instead].”

Already, some players are hoping to have family with them during any isolation.

“I’m willing to play as long as our families will be accommodated also and are in the same area as we are playing,” said Alaska center Abu Tratter. “They should be allowed to stay with us also. Support during these times is key as we all should know by now.”

TNT KaTropa guard Simon Enciso feels having families close by should carry equal weight when it comes to the decision of playing.

“I think one thing that the virus has made us realize is that you would want to be with your family in these times,” said Enciso, whose family is based in the United States. “Of course, the competitive spirit and love for the game are there that’s why I want to play. But I think everyone also has to compete at a high level and I don’t think it’s possible in these times.”

Special milestone

“Hopefully, if we do agree to play, we can find a solution to these situations,” Tenorio said.

For Tenorio and top rookie CJ Perez of Kia, who was also named to the Mythical First Team last season, being separated from family will carry an added weight: Tenorio is expecting his fourth child with wife, Cheska, in September. Perez’s wife, Sienna, is also due to give birth late this year.

Surprisingly, those who are hesitant to play minus a vaccine are those who wouldn’t mind being quartered away from their loved ones.

“If it will be for the safety and well being of my teammates and family then am all for it,” said Denden Lazaro-Revilla, who said being away from family would be a touchy issue to her since she is recently married to basketball pro LA Revilla.

Nothing new

And then there are those who feel being quartered is really nothing new.

“I’ve done it during college days and for me it’s a sacrifice I have to make given the current situation,” Mary Joy Baron said on being separated from family.

Magnolia Hotshots forward Jackson Corpuz and NLEX guard Jericho Cruz said they would understand if they had to be isolated from their families.

“That’s just one or two months of sacrifice for us, plus we have the technology right now to help us get through,” Corpuz said.

“I would prefer to be isolated than to put my family at risk,” said Cruz, who has two kids. “This way, I can work and secure the safety of my family. We are really looking forward to play but since the world won’t be the same anymore, we have to be extra careful and we have to adjust so we can move forward.” —WITH A REPORT FROM AP

(What would make athletes feel secure playing without a vaccine? What questions are troubling them? To be continued tomorrow.)

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