By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
A bench-clearing brawl erupted in the middle of the Asian qualifier game for the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) World Cup between the Philippines and Australia that disturbed basketball aficionados.
“Never seen anything like it,” one foreign basketball fan commented on social media which has been abuzz with remarks like “disgusting” and “crazy.” Filipino observers also found the free-for-all “embarrassing” which may forever impair the country’s appeal as host of sporting events.
Chaos erupted at the Philippine Arena last July 2, as the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier between Gilas Pilipinas and Australia devolved into a brawl.
The game at the Philippine Arena that evening was stopped for a prolonged period with 4:01 left in the third quarter after the melee that saw players of both teams punched, kicked and shoved each other.
Australia was well in control of the game at the time, with a 79-48 lead over the home team.
The melee appeared to have started when Australia’s Daniel Kickert got Roger Pogoy with a blindside hit, after both players had already been at each other’s throats for most part of the game.
It became a free-for-all from there, with Jayson Castro seen retaliating with a punch and Andray Blatche shoving an Australian player. Players from the Gilas bench got involved at that point, with Calvin Abueva, Matthew Wright, and Carl Bryan Cruz – all of whom were not fielded – came rushing from the bench.
Milwaukee’s Thon Maker, playing in only his second game for Australia, was seen aiming a kick at a few Gilas players, including Terrence Romeo. Wright appeared to have chased an Australian player all the way to the other end of the court and tagged him with a punch.
Referees were seen leaving the court, to review the incident at the OB (outside broadcasting) van. Replays of the incident were not shown.
The crowd at the Philippine Arena expressed its full support for the national team in the wake of the incident, chanting for Abueva and cheering for Pogoy, while also vociferously booing Australian players whenever they were shown on the big screen.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Al Panlilio appealed for calm in the wake of the melee.
“Hindi po kanais-nais ang nangyari,” said Panlilio, some 30 minutes after the brawl occurred. “I just want to appeal to everybody to please settle down. We didn’t want what happened to happen.”
“We are hosting this game, and this is basketball. We will wait for the referees for their decision but please respect the game, and may our visitors feel safe in the arena,” he added.
“Let’s just enjoy the game, everybody calm down, and respect the decision that will come out from the review of the refs.”
Nine Gilas players and four Australians were tagged with disqualifying fouls.That left the Philippines with just three players. The game was stopped with 1:57 to go and Australia on top, 89-53, after June Mar Fajardo and Baser Amer both fouled out, thus leaving Baser Amer as the lone Filipino left.
SBP Vice-chairman Robbie Puno noted that all three of these players were still on the court during the fracas but did not throw any punches and so were not ejected.
FIBA announced that it has opened disciplinary proceedings against both the Philippines and Australia for the brawl, which has since become a hot topic.
Australia apologized for its role in the unfortunate incident and said that it will await whatever penalties will be meted out. Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes says that whatever the consequences may be, the team will just have to face them.
For Puno, it was clear that the Australians made “an attempt to disrespect” the Philippines, starting from their removal of the decals all the way to their actions in the pre-game.
FIBA is expected to come out with a decision in the coming days.