Halftime Thoughts: Making strides in developing Philippine women’s basketball

Basketball has the universal stereotype of being a man’s sport with all the physicality and fiery competitiveness that comes with it. There are also passionate women that love and excel at the sport, but they have not been given a multitude of opportunities to showcase their talents at the highest level. Many men’s leagues in the Philippines continually receive enormous amounts of exposure, but these tournaments do not have a women’s division that would cater to aspiring Filipina talent. A variety of factors could be at play, such as lack of financial resources or little interest from stakeholders to pursue organizing and stabilizing the league for long term success.

But the country has recently taken a significant step forward in this regard. Last August 26, the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) gave approval to the National Basketball League (NBL), a league that emphasizes the development of athletes from the grassroots level, to create the first-ever women’s professional league in the Philippines—the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). This has become a springboard to promote gender equality by providing women an avenue to pursue a professional career in basketball, in hopes of eliminating the perception of basketball being just a sport for men. 

Starting on the right foot

With the recent international success of the women’s basketball squad, the players and coaches have continuously clamored to have a local professional league in the country. The 2019 Southeast Asian Games was the perfect indicator with both the Philippine men’s and women’s teams claiming the gold medal in the 5×5 and 3×3 division, respectively. Basketball is the number one sport locally, thus making it feasible to construct and develop a league that would attract a sizable audience. 

The challenge to establish an engaging and sustainable league is the need for capable individuals that would give their full effort in being exceptional leaders to push for the proper development of the league. The job cannot just be to create the league and hope everything leads to fruition without the proper planning and execution of concrete actions and goals. Any league would not start out with fireworks right away, but the more important aspect is having a clear and long term vision for the WNBL. As a result, this would increase the chances of large companies investing funds through sponsorships or purchasing of teams.

Additionally, the commitment to the constant communication and interactions with all teams and stakeholders involved would be another instrumental factor in uniting diverse groups. Dealing with the bumps in the road that are sure to arise as the league starts would also be more effective if approached as a collective, allowing numerous perspectives to be considered in making significant decisions. 

Continuity is key

With 10 to 12 teams expected to lead the charge in the inaugural season of the WNBL in January 2021, this would give ample amount of roster spots for women athletes to hone their skills at such a high level. This league could also open up opportunities for others to don the Philippine jersey at the international level. In previous iterations, coaches were limited to select players from the UAAP teams only, but the WNBL may provide a means for other individuals to prove their worth for a national team position. While immediate success cannot be guaranteed at that stage, building a national team training pool will definitely be beneficial for the program and for the competitiveness of local sports as a whole.

Admittedly, it may seem highly unlikely that the WNBL would reach the level of the topnotch men’s leagues right from the onset, but the proponents must strategize and determine the most effective approaches to introduce unique and engaging concepts, consistently. Making the games accessible via television broadcasts or online streaming platforms; constant publicity on all media platforms; and immense support from big local companies to invest in the league would all be promising ways to bolster the popularity of the WNBL.

There will be inevitable hurdles that will occur along the way such as difficulties in expanding the league to all regions of the country or matching the viewership currently enjoyed by the men’s tournaments. However, the ultimate goal must always be on their mind, as their passion and determination in having a long-lasting league will be their utmost priority. 

Promising future

With the WNBL finally receiving approval, the challenge is for the league to be a constant staple for Filipino sports fans. All teams must have substantial financial support, as it is a common problem of some defunct groups in other tournaments; sufficient investment can encourage more talented athletes to pursue playing professionally and can help improve competitiveness among teams. Integrity and parity among the competing squads would be necessary both for growing the audience all over the country as well as developing skilled players. 

As women athletes continue to gain greater and well-deserved exposure, basketball could also be used as a platform to inspire the youth. For instance, two Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) legends, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, have been instrumental figures in their fight of gender equality for women’s sports in the United States. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Taurasi has been influential with her grit and determination to play the sport she loves, while Bird has been a commendable leader in lobbying for equal pay in women’s sports, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, and fighting for social justice. 

As one of the most avid supporters of women’s basketball, the late NBA icon Kobe Bryant shared, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” Bryant was a leading proponent in prioritizing player development and equal opportunity for women’s basketball in the United States. Locally, it will similarly be vital for prominent figures to show concrete support for the women’s game, empowering Philippine women’s basketball to reach monumental heights.

By Diego Vergel de Dios

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