[OPINION] The case for a Gilas-style national billiards team
Last week Carlo Biado became the newest Filipino world champion in pool, following the footsteps of Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Ronnie Alcano, Alex Pagulayan, Rubilen Amit, and Dennis Orcollo.
These are all champions of events that are recognized as world titles by the World Pool-Billiard Association. Lee Van Corteza snapped off the 14.1 (Straight Pool) World Tournament last October, which is not officially a WPA-sanctioned event but might as well be due to the strength of the field.
Biado's triumph caps a banner year for the La Union-born, QC raised 34-year old. He won gold in the SEA Games, bronze in the Asian Indoor Games, and gold in the World Games, a competition with a very strong field. Biado finally gets his 9-ball world crown after finishing second in the 2015 world ten ball championship.
This achievement once again casts the spotlight on pocket billiards, which I strongly believe to be our best sport. It's also a game that needs a shot in the arm, as televised tournaments have disappeared, and pool halls are shuttering. BEC in Magallanes, one of the few remaining pool venues in Makati, for example, is closing its doors at the end of this year.
As Reyes and Bustamante, the two-headed Mount Rushmore of Pinoy pool, wind down their illustrious careers, pool seems to be fading into the sunset too. I get the impression that the public thinks that Philippine pool has no other world-class players now that the “magkumpare” are past their prime. That couldn't be farther from the truth.
A new generation of Pinoy shooters is here. Apart from Biado, who was overdue for a world title, Johann Chua and Raymond Faraon, both former winners of the All-Japan Championship, are proven champs. Jeffrey Ignacio has “all the tools to be a world champion,” according to former world champ Darren Appleton, while other players like Renemar David, Anthony Raga, and Jericho Banares, who won Manny Pacquiao's last tournament in Gen San, continue to deepen the bench.
Meanwhile, the established veterans like Orcollo, Corteza, Warren Kiamco, Jeff De Luna, and Roberto Gomez can still win any tournament played anywhere in the world.
The Philippines cannot be THE dominant pool country. I don't think we ever were the unequivocal best pool nation. That is jingoistic hubris more than anything else, in my opinion. But we were, and are, one of the best countries for producing billiards talent. We have a deep-rooted pool culture that churns out great players. It is a machine that will not be conking out any time soon.
Pool should be a sense of enormous pride for Filipinos. The sport is a reminder that with hard work, dedication, and some creativity, Filipinos can be world class. That's why a corporate sponsor can and should latch themselves on to a national pool team. It would do wonders for a brand.
Smart and Chooks-to-Go have aligned themselves with our national hoops team. Basketball is an obsession here, but our national team will not become world champs anytime soon. It's a similar story with the Azkals, currently ranked 124th in the world by FIFA.
But with billiards, we are already near the summit. If you were to rank countries in pool, we would surely be in the top 3, along with the United Kingdom, Germany, perhaps even the United States. A national billiards team could bring world championship titles to the Philippines on a fairly regular basis. Only boxing could claim something similar.
Surely being associated with a world champ is a mouthwatering proposition for any brand in the Philippines.
And it wouldn't cost that much. The Gilas budget is probably into the hundreds of millions a year. A PBA team would likely be in that neighborhood. Pro volleyball and football teams are definitely in the tens of millions.
I was speaking with someone who has been involved in pool organization for a long time. She and I agreed that this pool team can be operated for about P10 million a year, easily. That includes player stipend, equipment like cues and clothing, promotional costs, and travel expenses to tournaments all over the world. I'd say a team of 12 players is more than enough. No more than 3 full-time staff would likely be needed.
You would also need a training center. That is basically a large, well-lit room that can accommodate maybe ten pool tables. Most large conglomerates would be able to provide this in one of their buildings, I would think. Or the sponsor can simply renovate the current national training center in Rizal Memorial.
Making a training center for pool is infinitely cheaper than making one for football, basketball, or volleyball.
You would definitely have to work with the NSA, the Billiards and Snooker Federation of the Philippines. I'm sure they would welcome the support.
Any team needs a proper coaching staff. Rodolfo Luat is already coaching the national team players at the BSCP. Reyes and Bustamante are obvious choices to join him in mentoring the new generation.
I even have an idea for a name, too. Tibay Pilipinas National Cuesports Team. “Tibay” is a common term in the billiards world to describe a strong, “sturdy” player who does not buckle under pressure.
So here is the template. All that's needed is a corporate sponsor willing to put its brand before the team name. This is the kind of support that our shooters need to really take off. This deal will allow young players to have more tournament exposure abroad, for us to win more titles and stoke more Pinoy pride. Everyone wins, except our opponents.
I'm hoping that somewhere out there, a member of a boardroom is reading. This is just the move that could reenergize the sport in the Philippines. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.