MANILA – The Games and Amusements Board (GAB) on Monday officially released a joint administrative order (JAO) allowing the professional sports athletes to resume their training.

The release of the order, which was signed by GAB chairman Baham Mitra, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Butch Ramirez, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, ended a four-and-a-half-month wait for athletes competing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Philippines Football League (PFL), boxing, mixed martial arts, muay thai, and even the Chooks-To-Go Pilipinas 3x3, which is now seeking full pro status starting this season, to return to training amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

“We are so happy and excited that finally after more than four months our professional football and basketball players can now shake off some pounds they may have acquired during the quarantine," Mitra said.

Only non-contact sports and individual exercises will be allowed in areas placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ.

Meanwhile, conditioning activities among professional athletes can resume in areas already under general community quarantine (GCQ).

Among PBA, PFL, and Chooks 3x3 squads, a maximum of five players can do training at a certain period in areas under the regular GCQ,

In areas already shifted into MGCQ with strict local action, up to 10 players can now train at a time.

Regarding the combat sports fighters, they will only be cleared for training if they do not exhibit any symptom of Covid-19 for 14 consecutive days.

Scrimmages and actual games can resume in areas under the "new normal", that is, MGCQ without strict local action, provided that the leagues will comply with the provisions in the JAO.

"We expect them to practice maybe for a month or two to be match fit and hopefully when quarantine levels go down, they may be allowed to eventually play," Mitra added.

GAB has also cleared pugilists scheduled to fight abroad to fly to other countries that they will compete as long as they have already acquired pro licenses from the said agency.

Meanwhile, fines and legal actions await athletes and team officials caught violating any of the provisions in the admin order.

GAB, through its medical section and legal division, will further discuss the JAO in an online forum with its stakeholders on Wednesday.

Sigh of relief

Meanwhile, Ramirez said he is relieved that the JAO is finally put in place after a month of collaboration among the PSC, GAB, and the Department of Health.

“We all recognize the importance sport plays in building one’s strong immune system, what we just wanted to ensure was that they keep safe and away from the virus while they are doing it,” Ramirez said.

The PSC bared that the JAO stretches to sporting events not yet sanctioned by GAB but are under PSC's jurisdiction.

National Training Director Marc Velasco said that while the JAO "is a work in progress". He is glad that the order, which "recognizes the importance of sport in this pandemic", has been finally released.

"This will help hasten our moving forward," he said.

Still subject to changes

While the JAO is now in place, both Velasco and Mitra said changes can still be made if situation permits.

Velasco said the PSC, GAB, and DOH "worked towards getting the guidelines fine-tuned," but added that the current "volatile health crisis" could lead to tweaks.

"We will be sitting with PFF (Philippine Football Federation) and PBA separately to try to introduce additional safety measures to make sure that health protocols are put in place," Mitra said.

In a television interview on Saturday, Mitra said he is asking for GAB to "allow us kasi kami ang magre-regulate sa inyo, kaya mag-usap tayo (because we are the ones who will regulate you, so we need to talk)."

Mitra calls the practice resumption as "a make or break period if we can move on to resume actual tournaments". (PNA)