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Finally, football |

Young Star

Finally, football

UNWRITTEN - Maria Jorica B. Pamintuan -

The past few weeks, social networking sites have been swamped with messages and posts about sports.

I wasn’t surprised by the multitude of NBA-related posts — Filipinos have always been basketball fans. But when the NBA ended, a new sports fever seemed to grip the nation: football.

If, for some reason, you haven’t been able to tune into the news, read the newspaper, check your Facebook or Twitter, or notice the tarps, posters and products around many parts of the metro, the FIFA World Cup has suddenly become a very popular event in the Philippines. Now, with only days until the World Cup ends, the fever is reaching boiling point.

True, there are still many Filipinos who, like me, don’t know the difference among football, rugby, futsal, and soccer — people whose knowledge about the game is basically that it features buff men running around in short shorts or tights.

However, there is growing football following in the country. There are lots of real fans who not only have a passion for the sport, but are also dedicated to spreading the word.

Roehl Niño “Ronin” Bautista and Cherry Sun are two of those fans. Both have been football nuts for years, and have been on both sides of the fence, as players and spectators. From the beginning of World Cup season, they have been staying up (or waking up!) at ungodly hours to watch the matches live.

Cherry loves the rush and the sense of accomplishment that football gives. Ronin likes the difficulty, the challenge of playing the sport. They have different reasons for playing and watching, but their thoughts on football in the Philippines are as synchronized as the pro team maneuvers on the field.

“Kahit mas malaki ang chance nating magtagumpay sa football, sa basketball pa rin nakatututok ang Pilipinas (Even if we have a better chance of winning at football, the Philippines is still focused on basketball),” said Ronin, adding, “It’s a popular sport, but not as popular as basketball.”

He said that the main problem for football in the country is the lack of support from the government. There aren’t many venues for playing the game, and media coverage of matches is peanuts compared to the full-blown coverage of the UAAP and PBA.

Cherry echoed his sentiments when she said, “Sadly, I think we don’t have enough football fields and grounds. This is something our government can work on to further promote the sport.”

She did admit that football is gaining popular ground in Luzon, and that the sport is very popular in Visayas and Mindanao.

There’s even a Pilipinas World Cup for football enthusiasts in the country.

The truth is football seems to be a sport Filipinos can really excel at. As Ronin said, “Height rarely matters, control is important, and you can’t hog the ball if you want to score a goal.” Well, here’s a sport where the Pinoy’s small stature isn’t an issue! Control can be learned and practiced, and Filipinos are naturally giving anyway, right?

Hello, we have a champion rugby team, the Philippine Volcanoes! If that isn’t proof of how far Pinoys can go in football, nothing is.

It’s worth giving serious football training a shot. There should be greater support from both the government and academic institutions. Instead of focusing so much on basketball, our leaders should promote and develop avenues for training in a sport where height (or the lack of it) matters.

“I think we have a good number of football clubs and teams and it’s also good that schools are integrating football in their physical education curriculum, aside from their varsity programs,” said Cherry.

Ronin also said football is big in some schools — those that have the facilities for it.

“Hindi kasi ganoon karami ang mga venues para maglaro ng football, di tulad ng basketball na kada SK ng isang lugar eh basketball court ang project (There aren’t a lot of venues to play football, unlike basketball, which can be played anywhere because local youth councils erect basketball courts as their projects),” he said.

Aside from campus athletics, football can also be made part of rehab programs for juvenile delinquents. Dancing seems to be working for the Cebu inmates; imagine what wonders sports can do for kids. Not only would preoccupation with sports keep them out of trouble, it would also give them the skills they can use to turn their lives around.

They’d be really good at it, too. After all, they have the instincts for it already. These are the kids who can run off with your jewelry and then dodge pedestrians and other obstacles on the road. Formal football training can only hone the natural reflexes they have.

Most of the kids in juvy deserve a second chance. Sports can help them become better people, and isn’t that the point of rehabilitation?

Who knows, maybe the kids in a sports rehab program will be the players of a winning FIFA World Cup team. Hey, any kid who can get into the game early might be the Philippines’ version of Pelé — but we won’t have that chance until the government and institutions make football a sports priority.

“Our FIFA ranking is low. But we have to take into consideration the kind of support our representatives get, also the kind of training they go under. If we want to be world class, our training has to be world class,” said Ronin.

“At present, the Philippines ranks 169th among 202 football playing countries. I’d like to think we can be part of (competitions like FIFA), but not in the near future,” Cherry said, adding, “I believe the Filipinos have a natural gift to play the sport anyway. I mean, we don’t have the best facilities yet teams have been playing the sport well.”

Maybe someday, Ronin and Cherry will be cheering on a FIFA World Cup team wearing blue, red, yellow and white jerseys.

The Philippines has become internationally renowned for boxers, bowlers, and billiard players. I bet a lot of people are still hoping basketball will be the next “B” sport to join that list. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

And since Rep. Manny Pacquiao will be kept busy by his congressional duties, the country will need a new champion to cheer for. A brilliant football team may be just the answer. But first, we have to start small — and learning the difference between rugby and football may be the perfect place to begin.

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