MANILA: Australia’s “bruised and battered” basketball team said Tuesday they feared for their safety and sought embassy help to escape after a brutal on-court brawl involving players, fans and officials during their World Cup qualifier against the Philippines.
Basketball’s governing body FIBA opened disciplinary proceedings against both teams after the astonishing melee in Manila, where players and officials kicked and pounded a prone Australian player and both sides exchanged flying kicks and punches.
Thirteen players were ejected after the all-in fight between the Gilas Pilipinas and the Boomers in the third quarter, which was hashtagged #basketbrawl as footage and condemnation went viral.
What was already a bad-tempered game erupted in the third quarter when Philippine player Roger Pogoy knocked Australia’s Chris Goulding to the ground and Daniel Kickert retaliated by flattening Pogoy with a flying elbow.
In chaotic scenes, a white-shirted attacker appeared to slam a chair onto an Australian player as he was set upon by up to a dozen people, and a fan threw a chair at another Australian team member.
The game eventually resumed with just three men on the Philippines team but it was soon abandoned at 89-53 to Australia after two more home players fouled out.
“We had our players and team management and our coaches in fear of their physical safety,” Basketball Australia chief executive Anthony Moore told a news conference.
“Are we going to be able to get out of here unscathed?”
Moore said the Aussies “accept our responsibility for our role in last night’s incident” and were waiting for the sport’s governing body’s findings and sanctions.
“What we don’t accept is the action whereby fans and officials actually get involved in the fray,” he said.
The Philippine basketball federation offered its apologies on Tuesday to “Filipino basketball fans and to the basketball community”, but stopped short of saying sorry to Australia.
“As hosts, we regret having breached the bounds of traditional Filipino hospitality,” it said in a statement. “As the national team representing flag and country, we likewise extend our apologies to the people.”
But Japeth Aguilar, one of the expelled Filipino players, tweeted a personal apology to the Australians, adding: “There was no excuse for how we responded.”
Moore said the visitors kept their players and coaches courtside after the game and sought help from the Australian embassy to get the team safely out to their bus and their hotel.
“Physically our players are fine, they’re, you know, bruised and battered,” Moore said.
“Our athletes and coaches actually stayed on the court for a considerable amount of time, (it was) the safest place for our players and our coaches,” Moore said.
FIBA tweeted that it was opening disciplinary proceedings against both teams, adding: “The decision(s) will be communicated in the coming days.”
Thon Maker, one of two NBA players on the Australian side, tweeted Tuesday he was “deeply disappointed in the actions displayed” and was taking responsibility for his own actions.
“My hope is that this experience provides a springboard for discussion regarding the security surrounding these games,” said the South Sudan-born Milwaukee Bucks centre, who was ejected from the match.
The Filipino players drew further criticism on social media after several players were photographed taking a smiling group selfie, apparently after the fight.