FEARS over Andray Blatche's availability for the Asian Games heightened on Wednesday when Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia revealed he has already been advised by a top official that the NBA player is not eligible to play for Gilas Pilipinas.'
Garcia said he met with a high-ranking official of the Olympic Council of Asia who, the PSC chief said, advised him that OCA rules - and not those of world basketball governing body Fiba - will be implemented in the Asian Games set to begin in Incheon, South Korea in mid-September.
“I met with an OCA official, the first time we sat down, OK (siya na makalaro si Blatche) kasi may Philippine passport na,” said Garcia. “Pero a day or two later, tumawag si Mr. Wu from China, who is also with OCA, and he said na he is not qualified."
Questions about Blatche's eligibility to play in the Asian Games have persisted over the past several weeks due to an OCA rule requiring all naturalized players to be residents of the country they are representing for at least three years.
However, Philippine sports officials have insisted that the residency rule is applicable only to athletes who have represented another country in the past.
Officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas are also hoping that rules of the world governing body for the sport, in this case the Fiba, will apply in the Asiad since Blatche has already been cleared to play for Gilas in the Fiba World Cup.
However, Garcia said the Asian official made it clear to him that OCA rules will apply on issues pertaining to eligibility in the Asian Games - and Fiba rules will only apply in game matters.
“The OCA official was very firm in stressing that in the coming Asian Games, Fiba rules ang susundin regarding sa games, but the eligibility and other matters is not Fiba. It’s OCA,” Garcia stressed.
The government's highest sports official also said the fact that Incheon organizers have written the Philippine Olympic Committee on Tuesday demanding residency proof not only for Blatche but also for Gabe Norwood and Jared Dillinger is a sign the OCA rule on residency will come to play in the Asiad.
“Yun nga ang isang concern pa natin. Yung case nga nila Norwood at Dillinger na bago lang ang passport, kinukwestyon nila. How much more yung kay Blatche na last month lang nabigyan ng Philippine passport?” Garcia said.
“This is really going to be a complex problem that we would want to address right now,” he said.
For his part, SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, who is with Gilas ahead of its stint in the Fiba World Cup, said they are set to submit a position paper on the eligibility issue to the POC, which will represent the body in the screening proceedings.
Since there is no formal communication released by OCA on the issue about Blatche's eligibility, Garcia vowed to appeal the case of the NBA player before the Incheon organizing committee on Septemebr 11, or four days before the start of the quadrennial games.
“The final decision on this is September 11 wherein we will have a meeting with the organizing committee in Korea. It’s only then malalaman natin officially kung hindi talaga pwede,” he added.
“Pero sinasabi na talaga ng OCA, sa rules na nakita nila, hindi pwede. Ang sa amin, hanggat wala pang official communication, the SBP can appeal this. We will help them,” Garcia said.
“But we will fight it out.”
Garcia also doubts if longtime Gilas naturalized player Marcus Douthit can be tapped as a replacement if Blatche is declared ineligible.
The deadline for the submission of final lineups lapsed last August 15 and changes can only be made on the grounds of 'injury or medical issues.'
Gilas coach Chot Reyes tweeted on August 13 that he has tapped Blatche to take Douthit's place in the 12-man lineup for the Incheon Games.
“Yan pa ang isang problema. The deadline for submission of entries lapsed last month,” Garcia said. “Medyo mahirap yan, tapos na ang deadline for submission sa entry by name. The only time mapalitan ang player is to declare na may injury or physical incapacity."
Since Blatche is currently a free agent after opting out of his contract with the Brooklyn Nets, Garcia doubts if the NBA veteran is willing to step down under such grounds.
“Pero si Blatche might not like to declare himself injured. He plays in the NBA. It will affect his qualification as a player. Wala pa siyang team ngayon dun,” he added.
To listen to podcast of interview with PSC chairman Richie Garcia, see video: