Sports bring people together

VIEWS FROM DOWN UNDER - Amanda Gorely (The Philippine Star) - June 28, 2018 - 12:00am

This has been a month of great sporting events for both Australia and the Philippines.  Sport-loving Australians have been swept up by FIFA World Cup fever, and basketball-loving Filipinos saw a historic first with the country’s hosting of the FIBA 3X3 World Cup.

Australians love sports. Values from sport such as teamwork, inclusiveness and giving everyone a ‘fair go’ are also an important part of Australia’s national identity and culture.

I know that sport also plays an integral part of Philippine culture and identity. As Ambassador, my work has taken me to many places around the Philippines. From what I can see, no sport is as loved here as basketball. From makeshift half courts on empty lots, cemented full courts in the town plaza, to crowds gathered in sari-sari stores and large arenas, or family and friends gathered around the television, Filipinos are unabashed about their love of basketball.

Next week, Manila will be hosting the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. The embassy is looking forward to welcoming the Australia National basketball team, the Boomers, who will be facing the Philippines’ national team, Gilas Pilipinas. It is an opportunity to celebrate both our countries’ passion and talent for sports. Whichever team you cheer for on Monday, the game is a great way to witness and appreciate how sport can bring communities, and our two countries, even closer together.

Sport also has the power to transform lives, especially for young people. We see this in Australian aid-supported projects like the Fairplay for All Foundation that runs a football and education program for children in Payatas. Australia’s support helped build Fairplay’s Sports Center, which provided a safe space for underprivileged youth like Ronalyn. From scavenging in the community, Ronalyn went on to play then coach Team Philippines for the Street Child World Cup. Now 20 years old, Ronalyn has an offer to be a student-athlete at a top university.

The values of sport – competition, teamwork and fair play – help bring people together. I saw this first hand in Davao with the “Get Into Rugby” program of the Philippine Rugby Football Union. Nearly 300 students – both girls and boys – took part in a rugby tournament at the University of Mindanao as part of the Philippines Australia Friendship Week celebration. The young players from schools across Davao, who otherwise would not have a chance to meet, were working together, encouraging each other and exhibited the best quality of sportsmanship. 

Small investments in sports programs pay large dividends including in achieving development goals. The embassy hopes to scale up with more Sports for Development initiatives next year, which will engage with and help more communities across the Philippines.

I also saw how media play an important role in shaping the sports industry in the Philippines.  Earlier this month, we hosted the Women in News and Sports (WINS) mentoring program in Manila. ABC veteran broadcaster Tracey Holmes and WINS project manager Karen Shrosbery ran a week-long workshop and practical training sessions. Twenty women journalists from all the major media networks across TV, online and print spent a week together strengthening relationships and sharing experiences.

The journalists – from veteran broadcasters like ESPN5 executive Patricia Bermudez-Hizon and ABS-CBN’s Dyan Castillejo, to athletes-turned reporters like Amanda Fernandez and Gretchen Ho – are bound not only of their love of sports, but also their passion to reshape the landscape of sports journalism in the country. Spending time with them, I am more convinced than ever that women’s voices as athletes, leaders and journalists in sports will do much to strengthen the industry, inspire the next generation, and bring people closer together.

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(Amanda Gorely is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH)

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