Bernardo M. Villegas
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Soccernomics in the Philippine Setting (Part 2)

          The other reason why, as an educator, I have a keen interest in football is the great contribution that it can make to the cultivation of the appropriate values and virtues among our youth.  As I have personally witnessed in the football-related activities of NGOs or foundations involved in promoting the sport, such as the Henry Moran Foundation, the Roxas Foundation, the Gawad Kalinga Foundation, the Aboitiz Foundation and the Football for Humanity Foundation, among many others, there is a great focus on values education among especially young children.  I always remember the slogan of FC Barcelona “Mes de un club” (more than a club) because for these foundations working in the Philippines, football is “more than a sport.” 

         Just to cite an outstanding example, the Football for Humanity Foundation (FFH) last October 2018 sponsored an event in Cavite, together with the British Embassy, underscoring the potential of football in uniting people and improving lives.  Children from Mindanao mixed with those from other regions in the football clinic.  As FFH founder Chris Thomas said in an interview, “Football is just one tool that can help bring peace and development.  We hope to continue doing it in Mindanao and going to other places to bring the same opportunities” (quoted from an article of Michael Angelo Murillo in Business World, October 30, 2018).

         Another example was a project of multinational food enterprise Nestle that organized football clinics run by coaches from one of the best (if not the best) football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona, in Cebu.  The coaches from Barca, Jordi Aguilar and Albert Batalla, hammered the importance of values and virtues that have to be nurtured in the playing of the beautiful game.  As reported by sport writer Dom Galeon in the Manila Bulletin (October 2, 2018), Coach Albert told the kids: “The values are really the most important.  You have to treat your teammates and opponents as persons first and then as football players.”  The program, which is implemented in many parts of the world, is built following FC Barcelona’s key values of humility, effort, ambition, respect, and teamwork or H.E.A.R.T.—values that Nestle shares.  In my opinion, considering Philippine culture (or its inadequacies), the most important of the values is teamwork.  There is much we have to do to bring the spirit of cooperation and contributing to the common good beyond the so-called bayanihan of helping a neighbor transfer a nipa hut from one location to another.  As a people, we are not exactly famous for the virtues of always considering the common good in our individual actions.  Many times, the “common good” stops with the nuclear family or at most the clan.

         The Philippine national football team (otherwise known as the AZKALS) is making history for qualifying for the first time in the 24-nation Asian Cup which began last January 5 in the United Arab Emirates and will culminate on February 1.  Always seeing the glass as half-filled, I am already rejoicing about this happy event whatever happens in the various stages of the competition.  To be among the 24 Asian countries to participate in this biennial competition is already quite a feat, considering how little resources Philippine society (both public and private) is investing in the development of football.  I fully sympathize with the biggest supporter of the AZKALS, businessman Dan Palami, who has been bankrolling the national team since 2010 with zero return.

     As reported by sports writer Cedelf P. Tupas in the Inquirer (December 26, 2018), Mr. Palami was jubilant in remarking “We’ve been through a lot, especially for me.  We have not always been successful, but to make it to the bigger stage after all those heartaches, it’s fulfilling.”   His very justifiable rejoicing was echoed by one of the top players, Phil Younghusband, who spoke for all hopeful football fans in the Philippines:  “This is on another level.  This is where we want to be as a football country and hopefully this is just the start.”  It does not matter if we have not been able to survive the group competition in the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE.  We have to consider the experience even if failure as another positive step towards the world stage.  If all the stakeholders of Philippine football get together to formulate a long-term plan for the development of the sport, it would not be unrealistic to target qualifying for the World Cup in 2030 when there will be a big increase in the number of nations who can compete in the World Cup.  From the usual 32 teams, by 2026, 48 national teams will be able to compete.  To my mind, getting the Philippine team to be one of these 48 by 2030 is not an impossible dream.

         What kind of long-term plan should be formulated by the stakeholders, starting with the Philippine Football Federation; educational institutions (both public and private); business enterprises (both domestic and foreign) investing in the promotion of the sport such as Alaska Milk Corporation, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Meralco and the Aboitiz group; private foundations like those mentioned above; and local governments like those in Bacolod, Iloilo and Biñan who have been very supportive of football?  We may get some ideas from what happened in 2018, which can be considered as another turning point in the history of Philippine football.  Sports writer Cedelf Tupas can give us some clues to the preparation of a long-term development plan from his insightful article in the Inquirer entitled “A Sport in the Crossroads.”  He introduced his article with the observation that Philippine football achieved huge milestones in 2018.  At the same, though, it ended the year on a subdued note with setbacks overseas and at home, leaving the sport still searching for greater support from its stakeholders. (To be continued)