The Rivalry’s sports wish list for 2023 (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a two-part series.

The year 2022 turned out to be bittersweet for Philippines sports. While there were patches of success in different fields, the country also suffered in specific sports events that its athletes should have won. 

Hidilyn Diaz made sure that sports fans had a reason to cheer about after pocketing three gold medals in the World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia. 

EJ Obiena and Alex Eala also made the country proud. Obiena even defeated an almost invincible Mondo Duplantis for the gold medal with after clearing 5.91 meters in Brussels, Belgium to stake his claim as the third best pole vaulter in the world at the end of the year. Eala, on the other hand, made it a double celebration for September after winning the girls division of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, demolishing her rivals in straight sets.

The Filipinas (formerly called the Malditas), the national women’s football team, won its first major football championship after blanking Thailand, 3-0, to win the Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship. Earlier in the year, the Filipinas bagged a coveted slot in the 2023 Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand. 

There were also the low moments. The Alaska Aces, one of the most successful franchises in the PBA, disbanded after 35 years. Jose Rizal University’s John Amores went on a rampage and punched several CSB players and was eventually dropped by the school from its official roster. And of course, who can forget the debacle of Gilas Pilipinas in the Hanoi SEA Games last May when an all-PBA team lost the gold medal game to the Indonesian national team. The loss snapped a 52-game winning run by the Philippines in the tournament while conceding the gold only for the third time. 

In boxing, John Riel Casimero was stripped by the World Boxing Council (WBC) of his bantamweight title while notable boxers Nonito Donaire, Donnie Nietes, Jerwin Ancajas, and Mark Magsayo all lost their world crowns. 

Lydia de Vega, Asia’s sprint queen back in the late 70’s up to the 80’s, passed away due to cancer last August. 

The Rivalry also lost a dear friend in broadcaster Boyet Sison due to cardiac arrest after undergoing an intestinal surgery last April.

Looking forward to 2023

The Rivalry remains hopeful that the year 2023 would be a glorious one for Philippine sports, one that will serve as an impetus for a successful campaign in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Here’s a wish list of what we all want to see this coming year:

1. A successful 2023 FIBA World Cup

The SBP tried to get a lock of the hosting chores back in 2019 but lost out to China. This time around, with help from co-hosts Japan and Indonesia, the country will finally get to host the biggest basketball spectacle next year. The SBP has tapped the Mall of Asia Arena, the Araneta Coliseum and the Philippine Sports Arena as the primary venues for all the World Cup games where Filipino fans will get a chance to watch all the games of the United States in the flesh. 

More than all these though, it’s a rare opportunity to showcase the country to the world. Without a doubt, a successful hosting of the tournament would translate to positive results in various fronts, particularly in tourism. May the games be exciting, the delegates and players safe, and the fans show up inside the venues.

JIP will be ready to welcome participants and fans to the 2023 FIBA World Cup. (SBP)

2. Gilas Pilipinas making it to the Top 16

There are several reasons why the SBP badly wanted to host the tournament, despite the prohibitive costs that will go with it. One of those is for Gilas Pilipinas to have an opportunity to compete against world-class rivals on their home turf. Since the PBA opened shop in 1975, the Philippines has played in the World Cup only three times –1978 when we were hosts for the first time, 2014 in Spain, and 2019 in China. While we did place eighth overall in 1978, this was only because of the privilege that as hosts, the Philippines was automatically seeded in the championship round. Gilas placed 21st out of 24 teams in 2014 while ending up in the cellar among 32 teams in 2019.

Sports has proven time and again that it can unite the entire country. Nothing can make this nation more united than its basketball team. A top 16 placing would be the biggest gift that Gilas Pilipinas can offer to one of the most passionate cage fans in the world. Making it to the top two in the group staging would be a near miraculous feat but it’s not impossible. 

3. The women’s football team reaching the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup

This is the first time the Philippines will be playing in the football World Cup. The women’s tournament, first played in 1991 and held quadrennially, has had eight tournaments already, with the United States winning four times. Germany (2 titles), Norway and Japan (1 title each) are the only other countries to have won the prestigious plum.

The 53rd-ranked Filipinas are bracketed in Group A alongside host New Zealand (no. 24 in the world), Norway (13) and Switzerland (21). It’s a monumental task to accomplish but the ladies have shown they’re capable of rising to the challenge. One victory against any of those three would already be a huge development, but making it to the top two in their bracket and moving towards the knockout stages will definitely be historic.

The Philippines in the FIFA World Cup? Yes, it’s happening in 2023. (PWNFT FB page)

4.   Alex Eala cracking the Top 100 in the women’s ranking

For the past six decades, there hasn’t been a notable Filipina tennis player that ever came close to become a world beater. Marissa Sanchez, Gladys Imperial, Pia Tamayo, the Castillejo sisters, Jennifer Saberon, Jennifer Saret, Maricris Fernandez, Marisue Jacutin, Maricris Gentz, Chesca La’o, Katharina Lehnert – they carried the torch of Philippine women’s tennis since but only Alex Eala was able to position herself to becoming a legitimate world contender.

Turning 18 in May next year, Eala has reached as high as 214 in the WTA world rankings. This year, she’ll be participating in the qualifiers of the Grand Slam tournaments, starting in Melbourne next month. A consistent showing of fine play and skill will definitely give her the chance of cracking the top 100 in the rankings this year. Let’s also hope that she remains injury-free the rest of the year as Eala has emerged to be the country’s brightest bet in a sport beset by politics. 

How far will Alex Eala go in 2023? (US Open)

5. Parity in the PBA

The PBA has been fortunate to have no less than the country’s most popular ballclub, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, and a foreign team, the Bay Area Dragons, in the Commissioner’s Cup finals. If Game 1 would be any indication where 18,252 fans trooped to the MOA Arena, this series is expected to be a box office success, a turnaround from what otherwise was a lackadaisical interest in the early stages. 

The league’s difficulties to regain luster is primarily brought about by the lack of parity. In the Commissioner’s Cup alone, all three SMC teams were in the semifinals alongside Bay Area. In the Philippine Cup, the top six teams came from either the SMC and MVP Group. And in the last 14 conferences, SMB and Ginebra have won six titles each, with Magnolia and TNT copping one. For starters, lopsided trades should be eliminated when it’s clearly obvious that the top teams end up benefiting more. Special rules have to be created to give opportunities for cellar-dwelling teams to be competitive. Accommodating independent companies will also serve as a boost, if only to increase the number of indie teams in the league. 

RELATED: Making the PBA a better brand

6. Chapter 4 of the Battle of Katipunan

On the other hand, if there’s one league that has definitely taken advantage of a rivalry where two teams dominate, it has to be the UAAP. For the past couple of years, the league’s robust performance in terms of gate sales, TV and social media ratings has dramatically risen, most evident of which was the last two seasons when Katipunan schools Ateneo and UP were the protagonists. Any alumnus of either school can attest to a rivalry among these two – whether in academics or sports. 

But the last four years, starting with the Finals of Season 81 where Ateneo and UP squared off the first time in league history, resonated the rivalry further. And in 2022 alone, two UAAP tournaments were held with both teams splitting the titles. Not to take away anything from previous rivalries like UE vs. FEU, or UE vs. UST, or Ateneo and DLSU, but the league can only look forward to having another chapter of this epic rivalry.

To be continued…


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