MANILA, Philippines (AP) A rumor doing the rounds is that Manny Pacquiao will be in the corner for the Philippines basketball federation when it comes to bidding to host the 2019 World Cup.
The boxing great plays basketball with his entourage during breaks in his training and has formed his own professional team which plays in the domestic league. Local reports say he will join Filipino officials to help persuade FIBA to award the tournament to his home country when they present their bids in Japan next month. China also is bidding for the rights.
Chot Reyes, a former coach of the national team and a backer of the bid, said the 2019 event could provide inspiration to a generation of players across Asia.
''With the World Cup 2019, we are not only able to show the world what the sport means to the Philippines, but the opportunity to host a world-class competition like this will further inspire Filipinos both in the Philippines and the 10 million across the globe to chase their dreams,'' Reyes said. ''We also believe that it will offer similar inspiration to other players right across Asia.''
Manuel V. Pangilinan, president of the Basketball Federation of the Philippines, said the bid will present ''a passionate, innovative and game changing vision from a country on the move.''
''In the Philippines, basketball is life,'' Pangilinan said. ''It is part of our cultural fabric and the No. 1 sport which people throughout our country follow devotedly every day.''
The local federation said it can prepare four venues for the tournament, including the newly-built Philippine Arena north of Manila which seated more than 52,000 people at the opening game of the professional league last year.
The Philippines played in the 2014 World Cup in Spain, qualifying for the first time since it hosted the world tournament in 1978. The team finished with a win and four losses, but the fans still won accolades for their passion.
The popularity of the sport can be seen in the ubiquitous presence of basketball courts in both poor and wealthy communities. In neighborhoods lacking convention courts, the best paved roads are often blocked off for village basketball tournaments.
''It is really a sport that is at the heart of every Filipino,'' Reyes said. ''We have 40 percent of the population who know and played the sport, we have the facilities to support the bid and of course incredible fan support for the sport in the Philippines.
''Filipinos are also not just passive sports fans who watch basketball from their homes; they're active and vocal about wanting to see their country host the FIBA World Cup 2019.''