Sanctions-hit Philippines to send Asian Games team after all

Manila (AFP) –


The Philippines said Sunday it would send a men's basketball team to the Asian Games in Indonesia, just days after abruptly pulling out in the wake of an on-court brawl with Australia at a World Cup qualifier.

The Gilas announced their withdrawal from the Asiad basketball tournament on July 27 after basketball's governing body FIBA suspended 10 of their players and two coaches over the July 2 Manila melee, which saw players and fans exchanging punches and flying kicks.

However a special aide to President Rodrigo Duterte announced Sunday that the national federation and the country's professional basketball league had since agreed to field a team, a decision confirmed to AFP by the Gilas team manager.

"We are not obligated to win. We are obligated to keep trying and do the best we can do everyday," the aide, Christopher Go, said in a statement announcing the team's participation.

"This is Filipino Pride. And nothing unites Filipinos of every social class more than what happens on the basketball court," Go added.

Gilas team manager Butch Antonio confirmed the announcement to AFP.

The federation had earlier said it was withdrawing from the Asian Games in order to "regroup" after the FIBA suspensions, a decision which shocked many in a country where basketball is the most popular sport.

Indonesia will host athletes from 45 Asian countries from August 18 to September 2 in the world's biggest multi-sport event behind the Olympics.

The July 2 brawl left the Australian team fearing for their safety and prompted them to seek embassy help to fast-track their departure from the Philippines.

As well as player suspensions, Switzerland-based FIBA hit the Philippines with a fine of 250,000 Swiss Francs ($250,000) and imposed another 10,000 Francs fine on head coach Vincent Reyes, who was accused of urging his players to fight.

Three Australian players were suspended and their federation was also fined.

The Philippine basketball federation plans to appeal the sanctions.