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Duterte to grace OQT

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Incoming President Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte will lead thousands of Filipinos in cheering for Gilas Pilipinas when the national team aims for a spot in the Rio Games in next week’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Comebacking Philippine Sports Commission chairman William “Butch” Ramirez confirmed this yesterday as the country hosts the six-nation tournament from July 5 to 10.

“Yes, the President will watch the game, that’s what I was told (by Duterte’s staff),” said Ramirez during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at Shakey’s-Malate.

Ramirez, in his second term as chairman of the national sports agency after serving under the Arroyo administration from 2005 to 2009, said though that there is no date yet when Duterte will watch the game.

“I think they’re still finalizing the schedule,” said Ramirez.

The national team is in Group B of the OQT with France and New Zealand, while in Group A are Turkey, Canada and Senegal. Only the top two teams will advance in the crossover semifinals.

The winners will move to the finals to decide which team will earn the lone Olympic slot in Rio de Janeiro.

Simulatanous OQTs will be played in Belgrade, Serbia and Turin, Italy.

Gilas will face FIBA’s No. 5 ranked squad France powered by NBA superstar Tony Parker in the first day of competition on Tuesday and New Zealand the following day.

The last time a Philippine basketball national team competed in the Olympics was during the 1972 Munich Games.