Bernardo M. Villegas
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Football Diplomacy

           George Ney de Souza Fernandes, Brazilian Ambassador to the Philippines, is among foreign diplomats in Manila who are contributing their own time and skills to coach street kids on how to play the beautiful game.  Like most Brazilians, he has a passion for football and he wants to help spread interest in the sport among the poorest of the poor in the depressed districts of Manila.   The key word for him is social inclusion.  Together with other foreign diplomats from countries who will surely be qualified to play in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 (e.g. Argentina, Chile, Spain, Germany) Ambassador Fernandes is making a contribution to inclusive growth by making sure that it is not only the kids of the well-to-do who can master the sport but also the youth from Payatas and Smokey Mountain.  As he said in a round table recently held at the University of Asia and the Pacific on the promotion of football as a national sport, football is more than a sport.  It can help in nation building and in the fostering of such human virtues as humility, generosity, team spirit, tenacity, perseverance and discipline. 

          I received from him a most insightful publication entitled Texts from Brazil (No. 17) on Football.  It made me think of how important it is for us in the Philippines to start getting to know more about one of the most promising emerging markets in the world today.  In fact, it is always mentioned first in the recitation of the emerging markets that will dominate the global economy in the twenty first century:  Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) and followed by eleven other countries which include the Philippines (together with Indonesia and Vietnam in Southeast Asia).  Brazil has a young and growing population and an abundance of natural resources, coupled with an expanding middle class, that will surely help it to grow into an economically powerful nation in the next twenty to thirty years. With a per capita income of more than $12,000 per annum, it is already more than a middle-income country.   I intend to help more Filipino executives and entrepreneurs to become familiar with trade and investment prospects in Brazil through business missions that are regularly organized by professors of the University of Asia and the Pacific.

          I will start by describing Brazil as one of the most notable "football nations" in the world today.  It is the only country that has won the World Cup five times.  It will have the psychological advantage of winning the 2014 World Cup when it hosts the football champion two years before it welcomes the Olympics.  It is the country that has produced such football legends as Pele, Zico, Socrates, Ronaldo, Kaka and Ronaldhino.  As Roberto Jaguaribe, Brazilian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, remarked, "Football is Brazil's best ambassador," as quoted in an article by Vera Cintia Alvarez in the book given to me by Ambassador Fernandes.   In her article, Ms. Alvarez actually wrote about "football diplomacy" by describing the sport's role in foreign policy: "Many studies define football as something that transcends the dimensions of a mere sport; it is in fact at the epicenter of contemporary globalization processes.  Its wide acceptance, without doubt, makes it one of the most successful and flexible elements of the globalization process.  It has the peculiarity of behaving both as an instrument and a result, a tool and a stage.  The so-called 'global sport' is a fundamental cultural tool to understand humanity, since it is played in all countries, by all races and religions, and in all continents.  According to estimates, perhaps already outdated, more than 250 million people are directly involved in the football industry in the world; around 1.4 billion people are interested spectators; and the World Cup final attracted something on the order of 340 million television viewers."  I am positive that the 2014 World Cup will see significant increases in these figures.

          As Ambassador Fernandes pointed out in the RTD mentioned above, football has played a role in educating individuals, given the rules and discipline it imposes.  The French philosopher Albert Camus once remarked:  "Everything I know for certain about men's morals and obligations I owe to football."  Camus might have been exaggerating but a Brazilian anthropologist, Roberto DaMatta, agreed that the best democracy teacher in Brazil is sport, especially football:  "Football was brought to Brazil by a highly democratic English society, and if we look closely at this sport, we will note that victory is not synonymous with superiority.  Losing is not predestination.  Football teaches, in a curious manner, that winner and loser always exchange places."   A Brazilian sociologist traced the transformation of football and the beginning of its democratization--a process that includes acceptance of black and poor players in big teams--in tandem with its professionalization in 1933.  From then on, football became permanently associated with the Brazilian national traits. These traits are epitomized by what is called in Portuguese "malandragem", which means being streetmart, resourceful, convincing, playful, and mischievous.  The equivalent trait of the Filipino is what Ambassador Roberto Mayorga of Chile calls "calidad humana" or human elegance and humaneness.

          Thanks to the insights we have gained from the Brazilians about "football diplomacy," we are further encouraged to promote football as truly a national sport in the Philippines so that it can be an effective means of accelerating the integration of the ten countries in the ASEAN into a truly common market.  There have been recent commentaries in the press about the tendencies among some of the ASEAN countries to reverse the process of market integration through recent ultra-nationalistic provisions such as increased domestic equity requirements, prohibition of exports of strategic materials, and limit to the flow of people and capital.  These are all contrary to the spirit of the ASEAN Economic Community that is supposed to kick off in 2015.  One way to counteract this move away from integration is to make the beautiful game an instrument for closer ties among at least the ten ASEAN nations.  As one of the speakers in the RTD on Football remarked, there are more member nations in the international football federation called FIFA (209 members) than the United Nations (193).  It is possible that football can bring us closer to the people of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar than all the possible Free Trade Agreements that we can sign with them. With the proper human and technical formation, the AZCALS can be our most effective Ambassadors in the ASEAN as well as the whole Asian region.  For comments, my email address is