The Women's National Basketball League (WNBL) is now officially the first of its kind to be granted professional status in the Philippines after the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) accepted its appeal on Wednesday.
GAB chairman Baham Mitra made the announcement alongside league chairman and president Celso Mercado, executive vice president Rhose Montreal, and commissioner John Edward Aquino in a small press conference at Edsa Shangri-La in Mandaluyong.
"Basketball is not just only for males. Because of what is happening today, the NBL is advocating gender equality," said Mitra.
"Today is a very special day for our homegrown players. Today is the day for our WNBL players, the women players who've been dreaming of playing in a professional league," Montreal remarked.
The women's league was founded just last year and saw the PSI Lady Air Defenders win the inaugural title. A second season was supposed to be held before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic postponed the opening last March.
Seven teams are on the WNBL's roster already, and some vaunted national players in Afril Bernardino, Janine Pontejos and Gemma Miranda, among others, have taken part last season.
Also getting a boost is the NBL, which was founded in 2018 and has already churned out two successful seasons before the current season's playoffs was postponed indefinitely due to the threat of COVID-19.
"The Professional Games Division, as well as the Legal and Medical Division have sat down and studied and vetted and went over the safety protocols, the tournament rules. The people behind the NBL were subjected to study. It's not easy to comply with the requirements, specifically the health requirements, and the organizational structure, but they have passed with flying colors," said Mitra.
"Thankful kami sa opportunity na binigay sa amin," said Aquino. " Itong ligang 'to, inspirasyon namin sa mga bata, sa mga nangangarap hindi lang para makapaglaro sa collegiate kundi para makapaglaro ng professional basketball. Homegrown ang mga magpapakitang gilas sa mga probinsiya, sa mga komunidad at kung saan man sila pumunta, ito ang mga makikita niyong talento."
The 14-team NBL has already named two champions -- the Paranaque Aces and the Taguig Generals -- in its first two seasons and is bent on hailin a third by planning to hold a bubble for its season subject to approval by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
"Ako ay naniniwala na ang ating paglipat papunta sa professional ay malaking bahagi hindi lamang sa NBL kundi doon sa mahuhusay na manlalaro na hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa nabibigyan ng pagkakataon sa mga sulok sulok na lugar dito sa bansa," said Mercado.
"Naniniwala ako na sa gitna ng pandemya, itong ginagawa natin na ito ay maihahalintulad natin sa isang patriotic move dahil despite sa statistics na above 3.3 million ang nawalan ng trabaho, naririto tayo para bumuo magbigay ng trabaho sa ating mga players," he added. "Ito'y patuloy natin gagawin upang mabigyan ng pagkakataon ang lahat ng mahuhusay na maglalaro."