MANILA, Philippines -- The country's professional leagues remain hopeful that they can resume training sessions this month, even after Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Teams of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3, and the Philippines Football League (PFL) were all set to start practicing again when President Rodrigo Duterte heeded the call of the nation's healthcare workers and imposed stricter quarantine protocols in the metro.
Games and Amusements Board (GAB) chairman Baham Mitra is optimistic that the MECQ will be lifted after August 18, and professional teams can proceed with non-scrimmage practices.
"Ako po, sa tingin ko magi-improve (ang situation), and sa tingin ko makaka-practice na tayo in two weeks' time," Mitra said during an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday.
"Hopefully, before the end of the month, makapag-practice na rin," he also said. "Hindi naman talaga ito stop. This gives us a very good chance to sit down and work on the guidelines, and comply with the 14-day health monitoring."
The practices of professional leagues are guided by the joint administrative order recently signed by GAB, the Department of Health, and the Philippine Sports Commission.
Mitra admitted that their agency, and the leagues themselves, are eager to get sports started again in the country, after seeing other professional leagues abroad resume action.
Professional football leagues in Europe, such as the Bundesliga and the English Premier League, resumed in May and June. The National Women's Soccer League successfully completed its Challenge Cup in July, and the WNBA and NBA are ongoing in separate "bubbles" in Florida.
"Watching the resumption of sports in other countries, we are not only envious but also gigil to have it resume here as well," said Mitra.
Nonetheless, he stressed that safety and health are their primary priority as they don't want any "horror stories" in professional sports.
"We're anticipating the possible problems and doing everything we can to make sure it will be safe," said Mitra.
The JAO mandates that a maximum of five players are allowed to train per session in basketball, and 10 players in football. It also requires the presence of a health officer during practices. In boxing matches, referees are required to have face masks and eyeshields. Testing is mandatory before any practice session or fight is held, and there is a strict no-audience rule in place across all sports events.
As strict as the guidelines and protocols are, Mitra knows that zero transmission is all but impossible.
"We cannot guarantee that," he said. "Pero we're gonna do everything na hindi na magkaroon ng transmission."
"Ang pinaka-success, sa tingin ko, is 'yung ma-anticipate natin 'yung risk, and mai-put in place natin 'yung safety protocols na tama. Para sa akin, 'yun ang magiging success," he said.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).