Bernardo M. Villegas
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Football Fever

           Football fever is raging all over the world,   except in the Philippines.  Billions of people are watching the games now being held in various cities of Brazil.  You can count the number of Filipinos with the fingers of your hands who watched Brazil defeat Croatia  3 to 1 last June 13 or the Netherlands massacre Spain last June 14.  Filipinos over 18 at all social levels were more interested in the Spurs Vs. Heat count in the best of seven tournament.  As an advocate of football as a national sport of the Philippines, I am not losing hope.  I learned that some of my grandnephews ages 5 to 14 woke up at 3 a.m. last June 14 to watch the Spain-Netherlands game.  There is a new generation--the millennials-- who are the basis of my hope that someday in this century the Philippines will be a normal country where football is at least as popular as basketball among the masses.

          Thanks to some local football clubs like Team Socceroo, One Meralco Foundation, Kaya FC and Global FC, there is an increasing number of football clinics being organized by parents for their children as young as four to five years old.  These clinics are being held in numerous subdivisions in the Metro Manila area.  This augurs well for the future of football because the greatest influence on kids in the choice of a sports comes from their parents.  This was the revelation of three of the most famous members of the AZKALS, the Philippine Men's National Football Team, which has been largely responsible for the increasing popularity of the sport all over the Philippines.  In an interview featured in Style Weekend of Manila Bulletin last May 30, 2014, James and Phil Younghusband and Nate Burley all attributed their keen interest in football to their respective parents.  According to the Younghusbands:  "Our dad was the one who got us into it (football...He would be watching it whenever he wasn't working, so we'd join in with him...Our dad was a big influence on us.  Though he didn't force us to play, he encouraged us.  He encouraged us to be active.  James and I are generally quite energetic, and we naturally want to keep on the move--football gave us that chance to run around."  Nate Burley had pretty much the same story.  In his case it was his widowed mother who encouraged him and his older brother to play football.  It is for this reason that I am encouraging young parents with children five to twelve years old to organize family clubs based on the playing of football in their respective residential subdivisions. 

          Fortunately, this spreading interest in football is not limited to children of the well to do.  Numerous children from poor households, including the so-called street children, are benefiting from initiatives of NGOs and foreign embassies in learning the "beautiful game."  The University of Asia and the Pacific partnered with some ten foreign embassies in a project called the Ambassadors' Cup.  Each of the participating embassies "adopted" a depressed community in Metro Manila and sent coaches to train  the street kids in the game of  futsal which can be played even in the smallest space.  These embassies, together with some NGOs and business enterprises, provided shoes, uniforms, balls and other equipment to these kids and prepared them for a tournament that was held in the new sports complex of UA&P.  The teams representing the adopted communities, wearing the emblems of their respective foreign embassies, had the Ambassadors' Cup last May 10.  Having witnessed the happiness and dignity felt by the children, the organizers have resolved to make this an annual affair.  It is expected that next year, more embassies will join the project that was initiated by the ABC countries (Argentina, Brazil and Chile--leading contenders to win the 2014 World Cup).

          Another example of bringing football to the grassroots (where future Peles and Messis can be discovered) is the project of One Meralco Foundation and football team Loyola Meralco Sparks.  Teaming up with the Philippine Marine Corps, the Meralco-related organizations brought some 150 kids from Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, Misamis Oriental, Sulu, Zamboanga, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan to Manila to compete with various football clubs in a one-day tournament that was titled "Football for Peace Festival" which took place at the football field of the Philippine Marines in Fort Bonifacio.  To prepare for the festival, the kids had to undergo a football clinic with the Loyola Meralco Sparks at the Emperador Stadium at McKinley Hill.  They had none other than the Younghusband brothers among their coaches.  Such initiatives go a long way in inculcating values and virtues among the kids, not the least important of which is the ability to live in harmony with other children from different muslim tribes.  Football, indeed, can be an effective instrument for peace.  For comments, my email address is