FOR those still in doubt about the passion of Filipinos when it comes to basketball, this group of overseas Filipino workers in Qatar will convert you into believers.
The group has established a competitive league in the Gulf nation, providing high level tournaments for basketball-loving OFWs and expatriates alike, as well as coming to the aid of troubled compatriots.
Attracting more than 20 teams, the Pinoy Basketball Association sa Qatar (PiBAQ), which was launched in 2005, has provided a welcome respite for hardworking and homesick Filipinos, who fill up the venue each game as if it's an Ateneo-La Salle showdown.
“Ang dami pong Pilipino rito na mahilig talaga sa basketball. Kaya taun-taon, palaki nang palaki ang PiBAQ. Puno lagi ang venue namin sa Al Gharafa Training Gym,” said Francis Mercado, a former San Beda Red Lion now working in Qatar.
“Talagang mainit po na tinatanggap at tinatangkilik ng mga Pilipino rito ang PiBAQ. Marami ring liga rito, pero PiBAQ kasi yung premiere basketball league for OFW’s, sanctioned ito ng Qatar Basketball Federation at ng Philippine Embassy,” he added, while mentioning Ambassador Wilfredo Santos as one of the league’s supporters.
PiBAQ also channels its earnings every tournament into a fund that will help troubled workers in need of airfare to return home, as well as for hospitalization, medicine and legal assistance.
“Marami rin kasing big company owners lalo yung mga Pinoy na may kasosyo na Qataris ang nagbibigay ng contingency fund para matulungan yung mga OFW’s na nagkaproblema, isa na run yung M. Builders,” he said.
“Pag may mga nangailangan, agad nagbibigay ng tulong ang PiBAQ at mga team owners dun, pati yung mga players na may kaya, nagbibigay rin. Parang ‘serving’ community talaga kami rito,” added Mercado.
Among the notable players competing in PiBAQ tournaments are former UST Tigers star Nino Gelig, former UE cager Gino Arellano, Rico Vianson, Mapua’s Bert Ancheta and some other ex-PBL stars who failed to make it to the PBA.
“Madami pong players rito tapos may iba na galing probinsya at mga naglalaro lang sa mga barangay sa Maynila, pero magagaling rin. Nakakatuwa nga po,” he said.
Youthful construction executive Paolo Mercado, owner of former PBA D-League participant M. Builders, has also entered a team in the PiBAQ and in fact hopes to create teams for the three categories: Inter-region (open), Aspirants (youth) and 40 and above to help entertain Filipino workers in Qatar, who are currently around 400,000-strong.