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Duterte invited to Olympic cage qualifying

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t be there, but his team will be.

Since still months away, perhaps even a year, from actually shaking hands with Trudeau in a future state visit or some APEC-like summit, incoming Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will nonetheless get to meet members of the Canadian basketball team if his schedule allows him to grace the inaugurals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in early July.

The Philippines and Canada are bracketed in separate groups in the six-team Rio de Janeiro qualifier. But if Smart Gilas gets past New Zealand, at least, there’s strong likelihood the Filipinos would face the Canadians in the semifinals.

The two teams could even clash in the final and dispute the lone Olympic berth up for grabs if the Philippines upsets world No. 5 France, as well, and Canada disposes of Turkey and Senegal, setting up a semis against different opponents.

Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas executive director Sonny Barrios hand-carried SBP president Manny V. Pangilinan’s personal invitation to Duterte at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao last week in a meeting arranged by SBP regional director Boy Cua.

“Masaya kami na nagkaroon ang president, our Mayor Duterte, ng time for us; alam naman natin kung gaano siya ka-busy ngayon,” Cua told Sun-Star Davao. “He didn’t confirm anything. Sabi lang niya, I will try. Pero sa tingin ko pupunta siya, sana nga talaga makapupunta siya.”

Barrios shared the sentiment.

“It will be a great honor if our President can make it,” Barrios said. “For sure, he will be a source of great inspiration to our Gilas players.”

Duterte was still a couple of months away from making final his decision to run for the presidency when Trudeau, along with other world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, attended the 2015 APEC Summit which the country hosted last November.

Since then, Duterte, who won a landslide victory in the May 11 national elections, had spoken with Trudeau on the phone, with the Canadian PM calling to congratulate him last Wednesday and Duterte apologizing to Trudeau over the tragic death recently of a Canadian kidnap victim in the hands of extremists in the south.

The Manila OQT, to be simultaneously held with Olympic qualifiers in Turin, Italy and Belgrade, Serbia, has the Philippines facing France on July 5 and New Zealand the following day, Canada, meanwhile, meets Turkey on the 5th and Senegal on the 6th. July 7 is reserved for Day 3 of the preliminaries, July 8 for rest, July 9 for the semifinals and July 10 for the final.