A long shot
The hope and optimism showed by the country’s athletes on the potential return of sports under relaxed quarantine conditions were tempered on Tuesday by sports officials who expressed skepticism that competitions could be held without a vaccine against the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the moment,” Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chair William “Butch” Ramirez told journalists, “the position of the PSC board is [to not] hold any sports activities until December.’’ Ramirez said the recommendation was based on the health guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Ramirez said without a vaccine shielding athletes from the deadly virus, chances are high that sports can only resume next year.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino was less guarded about his outlook, centering his doubts on team sports such as basketball, volleyball and football and contact sports.
“Noncontact disciplines practice distancing, so we can push for these sports, but I’m quite worried about team sports,” Tolentino said.
The uncertainty voiced by both officials was in stark contrast to the optimism aired by athletes recently regarding the possibility of a return to action minus a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Inquirer recently released an exclusive special report based on a poll of more than two dozen athletes—including a couple from the para sector—across different sports like basketball, volleyball, football, various fight sports, triathlon and swimming. Of the athletes polled, almost two out of every three athletes (64 percent) were willing to return to action without a vaccine. A majority of those who said yes added they trusted the leagues and tournaments to implement the highest levels of health controls to keep them safe.
Two leagues that are aiming to make a comeback within the year are the Philippine Basketball Association and the Philippines Football League. The two leagues’ national federations, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the Philippine Football Federation are among the seven sports associations that has sought government approval to begin taking steps toward getting back to competition.The PBA has been the most aggressive league when it comes to comeback plans, with the league set to convene its Board of Governors anew so that commissioner Willie Marcial can present baby-step proposals aimed at returning teams to workouts, training and other noncompetition activities.
SMC players all clean
Several PBA teams have also had their team personnel tested. On Tuesday, San Miguel Corp. (SMC) announced that all players of its three PBA ball clubs were negative of the coronavirus.
But even with the welcome development, SMC chief Ramon Ang warned against taking safety for granted and said it would be best to heed government direction when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.“While we all miss the PBA, we need to first create a safe environment to limit the spread of the virus,” he said. “We defer to the government’s wisdom and decision on when team-based leagues like the PBA will return especially if people’s lives are at stake.”Much of the danger of a return to sports is the absence of a vaccine against the coronavirus.
“In case the environment will be kind to us and bless us with a vaccine soon, it will then change our direction,’’ Ramirez said during an online staging of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) forum.But by all accounts, with various pharmaceutical giants still in different stages of clinical trials, it could be a long wait for a vaccine. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the earliest a vaccine could be made publicly available is either late this year or the start of 2021.
Even if sports competitions resume under strict health protocols and frequent and persistent testing, all it takes to shred the blanket of safety is a single positive result of a player, official or even a team or league staff member.
“I don’t want to come to a point that we have to blame each other once we allow team sports to be played,” Tolentino said, also during the video conference hosted by the PSA.
Even the slightest break in protocol could lead to a positive test that could turn into a super-spreader that could pop “bubble environments” that seem to be favored by leagues globally in comeback attempts.
“Our health system might not be able to endure once an outbreak occurs. It’s better to be safe and alive,’’ Tolentino said. “Things will be easier to decide on if a vaccine for COVID-19 comes up,” said Marcial, who previously announced that the league will make an announcement on whether it can continue this year by August.
Already, a source told the Inquirer that several Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) teams have second thoughts about playing without a vaccine, even with strict safety guidelines in place.
“It was tough to decide to restart the season without the vaccine as a worst-case scenario may take a toll on the teams and the league,” the source said.
The MPBL has already suspended its 2020-2021 season. (See story below). INQ
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