Official word came down Tuesday after a week of wait-and-see regarding the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier against Hong Kong, originally slated for Thursday at the University of Guam Calvo Field House.
The much-anticipated matchup between Hong Kong and Guam is officially canceled due to concerns with the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Fears of COVID-19 have gripped the world in recent weeks, with more than 73,000 currently infected, mostly in mainland China. Outside of China, there are more than 850 cases being monitored. According to CNN, the current death toll as of Feb. 18 was 1,873, with five deaths recorded outside mainland China.
Reuters reported China recorded its first day when the number of new infections fell below 2,000 for the first time since January; however, global experts still warn that it's too early to say the outbreak has been contained.
There are several cruise ships currently on quarantine. Another 99 cases were confirmed aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, Reuters reported. The U.S. evacuated more than 300 Americans from the ship. Fourteen of the evacuees tested positive, but were still allowed to return to U.S. soil. They are currently under quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, or Travis Air Force Base, California. Several governments, including the UK, Canada and Italy, have chosen to follow the U.S. and evacuate their citizens as well – who all have been under watch for nearly two weeks.
With several countries imposing travel bans on countries that have been hardest hit by the virus, including Hong Kong, concerns were raised whether Guam should allow the basketball contingent to set up on island for the game. Guam currently has no confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Over the weekend, the Guam Visitors Bureau released a statement asking that the game be postponed in light of the virus and its impact on the tourism industry and the Guam brand.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero joined that call in a press release issued Monday, reiterating her support for the team, but urging the cancellation of the game.
"I am proud and highly supportive of Team Guam," Leon Guerrero stated, citing the funding of recent renovations of the field house to FIBA specifications. "However, that support cannot give way to my responsibility to do all I can to keep the coronavirus (away) from our island.
"The effects of COVID-19 have been and continue to be devastating," she stated in the release, adding she has full confidence in the island's public health officials to handle any crisis but is choosing to be cautious. "It is my duty to affirmatively minimize any risk to our people. ... I cannot risk exposure to our people, including our Guam National Basketball Team. Therefore, I must disallow this competition at this time."
GVB chairman stands by decision
GVB Chairman P. Sonny Ada said the GVB board made the right call.
“I stand by the board’s decision and recommendation for postponement or cancellation of the Guam Basketball Confederation’s FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifier. The decision was not based on any particular news article nor was it ever about just Hong Kong players and fans that were to attend," he said. "We will continue to make decisions based on facts and delicately steer Guam’s tourism marketing in the midst of a rapidly changing global epidemic. Every day, the situation is changing."
The governor’s decision is well-supported by residents and industry stakeholders, Ada said.
The Guam Basketball Confederation released a statement of its own Tuesday, supporting the governor in her decision and stating it will cancel the game.
“Gov. Leon Guerrero, Lt. Gov. (Josh) Tenorio and their administration have been extremely supportive of our Guam National Basketball Program and we will comply with the governor’s decision,” GBC President EJ Calvo stated in the release. “We hope that FIBA will agree to reschedule the game ... and we will now focus on preparing for New Zealand on Sunday and invite the entire island to enjoy the game.”
Looking forward to New Zealand
The Bank of Guam Men's Basketball Team has enjoyed a steady rise in FIBA world rankings since going undefeated at the FIBA pre-qualifier in 2019 and earning back-to-back gold medals at the quadrennial Pacific Games.
While Hong Kong is out, the New Zealand game is still on the table, an exciting prospect for hoops fans around the island.
The match, slated for Sunday at the UOG Calvo Field House, is guaranteed to be a high-quality, big-caliber game, with Guam fielding its best and most talented against a nation of 4.2 million.
"Team Guam is now 100% focused on playing New Zealand on Sunday," said Calvo. "We are excited to take the court at the highest-level game in Guam's history!"
Tickets cost $20 each and are available at all Foody's locations. But they're going fast, Calvo said, urging the island's basketball fans to come out and support the team.
Doors open at 3 p.m. Attendees can expect food trucks, concessions and vendors for an exciting live sports experience, the release stated.
Bank of Guam also reiterated its support for the men's program.
“As true ambassadors for the sport and for our island, we are proud to support an organization and team that place safety above all else,” stated Joaquin Cook, president and CEO of Bank of Guam. “As a sponsor, we commend GBC and our Bank of Guam Men’s Basketball Team for promoting a healthy and safe community. We remain your biggest fans and look forward to cheering you on soon!”
The men's program recognized its private sponsors: Bank of Guam, DOCOMO PACIFIC, Gatorade, Foody’s, Coors Light, KFC, Kloppenburg Enterprises, Pay-Less and KUAM Communications. The organization also recognized its public partners: Guam Legislature, University of Guam, Department of Public Works, Department of Parks and Recreation, Mayors' Council of Guam, Guam Economic Development Authority and Guam Visitors Bureau.