More than two weeks after the now-infamous brawl between Australia and the Philippines, which occurred in Manila during the FIBA Asia World Cup qualifying game, FIBA has handed down a set of sanctions that can only be described as light and in some instances, bizarre.
FIBA’s Disciplinary Panel imposed sanctions against a total of 13 players across both teams, along with two Filipino coaches and the referees from the game.
In a contest that was played on 2 July, basketball was ultimately the loser. An incredible 13 players were ejected, with the entire Philippines bench clearing, as players, coaches, officials and spectators engaged in a wild melee.
"FIBA wishes to emphasize that it condemns any form of violence, both on and off the court," as per the official release. "Respect, sportsmanship and professionalism are expected from players, coaches, officials and all other stakeholders at every game. Moreover, host countries must ensure the highest standards of organizational conditions are in place to guarantee the safety and well-being of players and other participants at all times."
Reviewing Australia's penalties
In their rulings, FIBA suspended three Australians -- Daniel Kickert, Thon Maker and Chris Goulding -- while also imposing a hefty fine on Basketball Australia.
Daniel Kickert and Chris Goulding were charged with 'inciting unsportsmanlike behavior' and 'unsportsmanlike behavior', with the latter charge also bestowed upon Thon Maker.
On Kickert's penalty
Kickert's excessive physical retaliation in the form of a hard elbow --which came in reaction to an overly aggressive foul by Roger Pogoy on Chris Goulding-- resulted in hard contact on Pogoy, saw tempers boil over and the Philippine side clearing their bench. For Kickert's part in the escalation and the ensuing brawl, he received a 5-game suspension. Given the nature of the incident and the fact that it occurred in the flow of the game, the penalty received by Kickert would appear adequate and reasonable.
Maker made his mark
On reviewing his actions in the brawl that followed, Maker could be seen flying about in an attempt to clear Filipino players away from his Australian teammates, while also acting in self defense from those attacking him from behind. Yet his errant flying kicks, that did not connect with anyone, did look dangerous, but worse than what they really were. Subsequently he received a 3 game suspension, something that Maker has since publicly disagreed with.
On Goulding's perplexing suspension
Yet in one of the most bizarre sanctions handed down, Chris Goulding, who found himself of the receiving of end of up to a dozen players, coaches, officials and spectators, received a 1 game suspension.
Goulding who was the target of Pogoy's aggressive contact in the first instance, lay prone on the ground following the contact, and yet was charged for 'inciting unsportsmanlike behaviour.'
This charge is downright ridiculous, let alone the fact he received a 1 game ban for it!
On Basketball Australia's fine
In another bizarre penalty imposed, Basketball Australia is required to pay a disciplinary fine of CHF 100,000 (AUD$134,850) for 'unsportsmanlike behavior of its players and for abusing and/or tampering of equipment', a charge relating to floor decals being removed from the court on the eve of the game.
The penalty against Basketball Australia reeks of political correctness, and made in an attempt to appease the Filipinos who were handed the bulk of the sanctions for their disgraceful behaviour on court. A number of Filipino officials were referring to this incident, and another scuffle in warm-ups involving Kickert -- that was actually later proven to have been initiated by a Philippines player -- in justifying their disgraceful on-court actions.
Two wrongs do not make a right. Australia admittedly, deserves some penalty for their part in escalating the on-court tensions between the sides. It must be noted however, that Australian players were not the ones committing assault in the form of coward punches, thrown chairs and more.
Basketball Australia Chief Executive Officer Anthony Moore also welcomed FIBA's finding that no discriminatory or racist language was used by any Australian player despite some unsubstantiated allegations made by certain sections of the media.
“We also welcome FIBA’s finding in its report that no discriminatory or racist language was used by Australian Boomers players, nor did it incite the incident as has been alleged."
Australian Basketballers Association Chief Executive and Managing Director Jacob Holmes shared Moore's sentiments in relation to the exoneration of Australian players in relation to racist or discriminatory remarks, yet remained disappointed in the penalties handed out by FIBA.
"It would be remiss of us to not to express disappointment on behalf of our players in some of the sanctions meted out," Holmes said. “We’re significantly disappointed and find it difficult to understand, looking at the sanctions. We have to express significant disappointment.”
Reviewing the Philippines' penalties
The majority of penalties handed down by FIBA relate to the Philippines, and rightfully so given they cleared their bench in the ensuring melee. 10 players and two coaches received suspensions, with Philippines' national federation, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, Inc (SBP), also required to pay a disciplinary fine while also receiving several other sanctions.
Pogoy was charged with 'inciting unsportsmanlike behaviour', and along with all his teammates with the exception of Gabe Norwood, was also charged with 'unsportsmanlike behaviour.' Pogoy, Carl Cruz and Jio Jalalon all received 5-game suspensions, while Calvin Abueva received 6 games due to prior unsportsmanlike behavior in a FIBA competition. Terence Romeo, Jayson Castro William, Andray Blatche and Jeth Rosario were given 3-game bans, while Japeth Aguilar and Matthew Wright each received a single game's suspension.
With the punches laid, including the coward ones thrown from behind, and the gang-like brawl, these penalties appear to be severely inadequate, especially when considering the suspensions handed out to Australia, coupled with the lack of remorse shown afterward as evidenced by the 'selfies' taken on court shortly after the tensions subsided.
On the team officials
Punishments get more perplexing however, when it comes to team officials.
Assistant Coach Joseph Uichico -- the same guy that was captured on video throwing a chair into Chris Goulding's head -- has only been suspended for 3 games for 'unsportsmanlike behavior'. Head coach Vincent ‘Chot’ Reyes, was suspended for one game and ordered to pay a fine of CHF 10,000 (AUD$13,485) for 'inciting unsportsmanlike behaviour.'
In FIBA's release, there was no sign of any 'striking' or 'assault' charges laid despite the brawl being captured in video at all angles. It is a strange and mysterious situation indeed.
The national federation penalties
The Philippines' national federation did not escape any sanction, with Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, Inc (SBP) charged with 'unsportsmanlike behavior of its delegation members and of its public', as well as for 'insufficient organization of the game.' The Philippines will now be forced to play their next home game behind closed doors (minus most of their regular players who have been suspended), while a ban for two more home games has been placed under a probationary period of 3 years. In addition, they received a fine of CHF 250,000 (approximately AUD$337,126).
While the sanctions imposed on the national federation are not light, the ones on the coaches and players are. Given the brevity and nature of the incident, they do not send a strong enough message to the rest of the world.
It is understandable however, given how FIBA is in a difficult position, and the long term picture. The 2023 FIBA World Cup is to be co-hosted by the Philippines, along with Japan and Indonesia, which would make a harsh punishment relatively awkward.
On the referees
The game officials in charge of the contest have also not escaped without punishment in another bizarre outcome.
FIBA's Secretary General has removed the three referees who managed that game from the FIBA Elite Program, and made them unavailable to be assigned to any international competitions organised or recognised by FIBA for 12 months.
To any observer, the officials had lost total control of the game, allowing the heated contest to escalate, leading up to the melee. To be fair, the officials looked out of their depth for a game at this level, and FIBA should share responsibility for their appointment. Unless there is something else sinister behind their call of the game in Manila, the sanctions against the FIBA appointed officials on charge of the game are extremely harsh.
The fact that FIBA held all proceedings behind closed doors, does not help the situation. This was an opportunity for FIBA to display transparency and send a message to the rest of the world that abhorrent behaviour such as that was seen in Manila, was not acceptable anywhere near a basketball court let alone in modern society.
Suspensions imposed by FIBA on the players and officials also only relate to future FIBA World Cup qualifying games, therefore not impacting upon any other player or official commitments, which is sure to be a relief to everyone and their respective clubs. In many ways, this further waters down the penalties imposed.
Basketball Australia and SBP have since issued statements in response to the FIBA rulings, both apologising for their parts in the incident while accepting the sanctions imposed, but reserving the right to appeal within the 14-day window available.
"Once again, SBP, together with the Gilas national basketball team, apologize to our countrymen and to the basketball community at large for our conduct in the incident. We reaffirm the principle of no-violence of any form on the basketball court or off it," said SBP President Al Panlilio at a press conference.
"We appreciate that the game of basketball is of such importance in the hearts of every Filipino, and in that light, we wish to assure our countrymen and FIBA that we'll work to raise our hosting standards to a higher level as befits the traditional hospitality accorded to guests by our people.
"SBP accepts the disciplinary panel's decision and extends its appreciation to the panel for its work. The decision is a lengthy document. The SBP is in the process of carefully reviewing it. The Executive Committee of the SBP will be convened soon to determine if it would avail of the appeal's procedure provided under the decision."
It was a similar story from Basketball Australia CEO Anthony Moore, but with a slightly different view.
“As we stated at the outset, Basketball Australia sincerely regrets the incident that occurred in Manila and the involvement of our players in it. The FIBA Disciplinary Panel’s findings were comprehensive and addressed the key points of our submission," said Moore.
“We acknowledge the sanctions handed down against Australian players and acknowledge the sanctions imposed against Philippines players and officials involved in the incident. We are seeking further clarification from FIBA about possible sanctions against other officials and fans involved in the incident.
“We have 14 days to appeal the sanctions. Whilst it is unlikely we will do so this is a matter that will be considered at a scheduled board meeting of Basketball Australia tomorrow."
Moore's words were carefully chosen, and while Australia may accept their penalties imposed, albeit reluctantly, they could yet further action in regards to the assault of its players for which those involved seem to have escaped with either light or no penalty at all.
We may not yet have heard the end of this saga.