RICHARD Gomez believes participation in the Asian Games men’s basketball tournament is as equally important as competing for a slot in the 2019 Fiba Basketball World Cup.
Gomez said he is hoping the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) will have a change of heart after deciding not to participate in the Asiad and focus on the next Fiba World Cup qualifiers and the country's hosting of the 2023 World Cup.
“I think the Asian Games is just as important as the World Cup, as important as the Southeast Asian Games,” said Gomez during Tuesday’s Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum.
Gomez, the chef de mission of the Philippines in the Asian Games, said the Philippines has the duty to uphold its rich tradition in the Asian Games, having won four gold medals in the first four editions of the quadrennial event from 1951, 1954, 1958, and 1962.
The Philippines won a silver medal in 1990 behind the first all-PBA team coached by Robert Jaworski, a bronze in 1986 with an all-amateur side led by Allan Caidic and Alvin Patrimonio, and bronze in 1998 care of Tim Cone's Centennial Team.
The only time the Philippines didn’t participate in the Asiad was in 2006 when the country was under suspension by Fiba owing to the leadership squabble in the old Basketball Association of the Philippines.
“The fact remains that we have a team. We have to represent basketball in the Asian Games. Parang unspoken commitment na natin ‘yun, di ba? Not just for the NSA but for the Filipino people,” said Gomez.
The actor/sportsman also feels that for the Philippines to make its presence felt in the World Cup, the country should first be successful in the Asian Games.
“If you are gunning for the World Cup, manalo muna tayo sa Asian Games,” said Gomez, who also heads the fencing federation in the Philippines. “Kaya natin sa Southeast Asian Games, manalo muna tayo sa Asian Games.
“The last time nag-gold tayo, 1962. And then the last silver medal, time pa ni Jaworski. Let’s try to prove (ourselves) first the Asian Games. Then, kapag na-hit natin, labanan natin World Cup. Go for smaller apples muna. Then let’s hit the big apple,” Gomez said.
The SBP said it is pulling out of the Asiad because of its inability to form a competitive team that will play against the region’s best.
On the contrary though, Gomez said Philippines has an abundance of talent in basketball since most of the best players in the league are in the PBA.
“Marami naman tayong professional players. All-year round, kundisyon sila. Try to pick the best players na puwede ka makabuo ng team, panlaban naman ‘yun,” said Gomez.