Bernardo M. Villegas
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Attaining Inclusive Growth Through Football

           As an antidote to the negative image given to football by the corruption charges against top officials of the FIFA, the world federation of football, let me share with my readers what I received from one of the foremost advocates of teaching street children football in the Philippines.  I am referring to former Chilean Ambassador to the Philippines, Mr. Roberto Mayorga, who has decided to become a permanent resident of the Philippines.  Ambassador Mayorga was one of the brains behind the Ambassadors Cup, an initiative of foreign embassies in the Philippines to contribute to the integral human development of street children through  teaching them how to play football.  Children from the ages of 6 to 14 coming mostly from poor households in the depressed communities of Metro Manila and surrounding provinces have been organized into ten teams that compete in the Ambassadors Cup being organized annually by the University of Asia and the Pacific.  Throughout the year, these children have regular training from coaches provided by the respective embassies and NGOs collaborating with them, such as the Gawad Kalinga group.  It is hoped that more embassies will be joining in future years.

          As Ambassador Mayorga wrote in a letter of the President of UA&P, the ABC  Cup organized three years ago by the embassies of Argentina, Brazil and Chile had as their main goals the following:  (1)  To secure and  firm up the commitment of  foreign embassies for a permanent contact with poor barangays, especially through the practice of sports.  We chose football given the physical condition of Filipinos and the inexpensiveness of the practice, which makes wide dissemination of the sports feasible.  The idea was to visit the barangays regularly during at least six months which culminates with an annual tournament which we named ABC Cup (which has now evolved into the Ambassadors Cup after more embassies joined).  (2)  To transmit values to the children in a most natural setting of training for sports and engagement in friendly games and competitions. 

          This worthy initiative gives more meaning to inclusive growth because it goes beyond providing the poor with more material means.  It looks at the spiritual and intangible goods that the well-to-do can share with the less privileged.  All those involved in the coaching of the children and the organization of the various competitions leading to the annual tournament are very conscious of inculcating the following values enumerated by Ambassador Mayorga as “values proper to street football for children.”  Let me summarize the list he sent:  1. The sense of teamwork and common good.  Do your best for the victory of the team.  Your effort and achievement should not be at the expense of the entire team.  2.  Discipline.  Live punctuality strictly in all training sessions, meetings, and games.  Be rigid in following norms related to food, drinks, rest, and sleep.  3.  Friendship.  Always treat your teammates as real friends in the face of all circumstances.  Consider the players of the other teams as opponents, not enemies.  4.  Fair Play.  Always play fair and be gracious in victory and in defeat.  Celebrate victory with joy without insulting or humiliating your opponents.  Accept defeat humbly and recognize the victory of the opposing team.    5.  Tenacity and consistency.  Strive to be better each day:  today better than yesterday; tomorrow better than today.  Give your best at all times, overcoming weaknesses and making strengths productive. 

          The list of virtues seems interminable but they are very clearly relevant to the playing of football as I have witnessed in some of the best football clubs all over the world.  As I have written in former columns as regards the football club FC Barcelona, who just won the Treble by clinching the Champions League title last June 7 (Manila time), the following additional virtues stand out among the Barca players:  6.  Humility.  Don’t feel that you are better than anyone else. Strive, however, with constant effort, to be the best that you can.   7. Compassion.  Always take care of your teammates when they are in trouble, in or out of the football field.  If an opponent gets injured during a game, assist him or her with all your care.    8.  Joy of life.  Allow football to yield a fruitful and happy life for you.  Play with passion…and joy.   9.  Optimism.  Participate in all activities related to your team, full of optimism.  Be cheerful regardless of outcomes.  10.  Commitment.  Be committed to live these values daily.  Share them with your teammates, family, friends and others.  Be a witness to these values in your day-to-day life.

          The Ambassadors Cup is not the only initiative in the Philippines involving street and other poor children in the game of football.  As a volunteer working with the Philippine Football Federation in the spread of the football culture all over the Philippines, I have become aware of dozens of NGOs spreading the playing of football among poor children.  I am enjoining these worthy organizations to be very conscious of the values that they can inculcate among the children of the poor through the playing of the beautiful game.  Even more important than such material gifts such as food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities, making the poor children more virtuous will redound both to their personal happiness and to national development.  Football is more than a sport.  It can be a whole approach to living a virtuous life.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.