Bernardo M. Villegas
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Uphill Climb for Beautiful Game

           Football fans got a dose of realism as a result of a market research done by Nielsen for the Philippine Football Federation.  It will take time and much effort for football lovers to get their fellow Filipinos to show the same interest that they have for the leading national sport, basketball, and even for volleyball and boxing.  Highlights of the findings of the survey are as follows:

          --Popularity of football is still low in the Philippines.  Only 28% of the respondents were able to recall football as a sport being played in the Philippines without being shown a list, well below the level of basketball (92%) and volleyball (75%).  As regards regional awareness, football is more popular in the Visayas (49%) than in Luzon outside of Metro Manila (22%).

          --Football has a long way to go to compete with basketball in national consciousness.  Only 1% of respondents tagged football as the best sport in the Philippines compared to 75% of basketball.

          --At the practical level, 60% of respondents believe that football is difficult to play.

          --Generally, financial support for football is low.  Visayas and Mindanao show more revenue-related support for football as they have higher incidences of watching matches live compared to the Greater Manila Area and the rest of Luzon.

          --On the positive side, 89% of the respondents like the idea of having a national football league.

          --The most appealing name to the respondents is “Philippine Football League” (equivalent to the Premier League in the UK, Bundesliga in Germany and La Liga in Spain).

          As an avid advocate of football, I have been brought down to earth by these findings.  I resolve to have the same patience that I have had over the last 25 years aspiring that the Philippines could finally join the ranks of the Asian Tigers.  As early as the Cory Administration in 1986 to 1992, my prophecy of boom was that the Philippines could finally follow the footsteps of our neighboring countries such as Taiwan and South Korea in becoming a newly industrializing economy.  For various man-made and natural disasters, my optimism was not borne out by the facts.   We continued to be the “sick man of Asia” till the second decade of the New Millennium.  Well, when it comes to football, I am willing to wait as long.  Promoting football as a national sport will be an uphill climb.  In the meantime, I promise that I will not take pot shots at basketball as I have done in the past.  Thanks to one of my readers, Miguel Lopez Francisco—a passionate follower of basketball—I have mended my erroneous practice of pulling down basketball in order to promote football.  I promise that I will equally rejoice at the successes of our basketball teams and players in the world stage as I celebrate whatever victory the AZKALS may have in international competitions.

          Mr. Francisco corrected my erroneous claim that we will never be world class in basketball because we do not have tall players.  He recited our achievements in the global competition for basketball fame:  The Philippines has qualified in the FIBA World Cup five times and in 2014 in Spain, we reached the semi-finals.  The Philippines holds the record of being the only Asian team that received the bronze medal in the FIBA World Cup.  The world took notice of the Philippine basketball prowess in the 2014 World Cup in Spain.  In 2014, the Philippines ranked 31 in the whole world.  But our national players gave a tough time to Numbers 4, 5, 16, and 17 in the global ranking.  The Philippines has appeared seven times in the basketball competition in the Olympics.  In the FIBA Asia championship, the Philippines has received 5 Golds, 4 Silvers and 1 Bronze (3 straight semifinal appearances 2011, 2013 and 2015) and (back to back finals appearance, silver medalist 2013 and 2015).  Asian Games 4 Golds, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze.  SEABA championships 7 Gold, 1 Silver.  Southeast Asian games 17 Golds and 1 Silver.  Far Eastern Championship 9 Golds and 1 Silver.  William Jones Cup 4 Golds, 1 Silver, 3 Bronzes.  SEABA Cup 1 Gold and FIBA Asia Cup 1 Bronze 2014.  The evidences provided by Mr. Francisco are overwhelming:  the Philippines is already world class in basketball.  There is no reason for football lovers like me to make Filipinos choose between the two sports. 

           I also stand corrected when I generalize that Filipinos are “dwarves” and, therefore, will find it hard to excel in basketball.  Better nourishment and intermarriages among different races are increasing the average height of the Filipino, especially the so-called millennials. Mr. Francisco cited Junmar Fajardo (6’10”), Japeth Aguilar (6”9”), seven-footer Greg Slaughter and Raymond Alamazan (6’8”).  Then to prove his point that the younger generation of players  are getting taller, he sent me pictures of Batang Gilas players showing a twelve-year old Filipino who is 6’5”; a fourteen-old who is 6’7”; a fifteen-year old who is 6’7”; another fourteen-year old who is 6’8”; and a sixteen-year old who is 6’11”.  Thanks, Miguel, for curing me of the crab mentality:  I will not promote football at the expense of basketball.  As you said very well, the two can prosper together.  With 150 million Filipinos by the year 2050, there will be room for as many sports as there are in developed countries like the U.S., Japan, Germany and even South Korea. For comments, my email address is