Page last updated at 07:01 UTC, Tuesday, 08 August 2017 PH
We especially need an icon like Lionel Messi as the Philippines is just beginning to witness the slow rise of football as a national sport. The Philippines Football League was launched last April 2017 with eight city teams competing, four from the Metro Manila area and four from regions outside the NCR. Children as young as four years old are taking interest in football among both poor households and the gated subdivisions. There are a good number of initiatives in schools, local government, the business sector and civil society to make use of football as a vehicle for values formation. The most recent one is that of the Football Council of Naga (FCN), with assistance from Football of Humanity Foundation (FFH) whose mission is to promote the playing of football among the youth as a means of character formation. This project in the Bicol region, which is spearheaded by a volunteer football development officer of FCN and FFH founder, Chris Thomas, follows the footsteps of others in the business and civil society sectors in making use of football for nation building, such as Alaska Milk Corporation, Coca Cola, Nestle, Pru-Life, LBC, Meralco, CERES, and Megaworld among business enterprises and Henry Moran Foundation, Gawad Kalinga, the Roxas Foundation, and the Lopez Group Foundation among NGOs.
A project that should be sustained at all cost is the “Ambassador Cup”, a project of a number of foreign embassies aimed at helping the Philippines bring football to the fore of national consciousness. Practically all countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia have football as the Number One sport. Without meaning to dethrone basketball as the most popular sport in the Philippines, a number of well-intentioned foreign Ambassadors in the last five years have expressed their interest in assisting some depressed communities in the Metro Manila area to develop football programs for street children as a way of keeping them away from the streets and helping them to develop the appropriate human values such as team spirit, diligence, generosity, humility, graciousness in defeat and punctuality through the playing of football. This project was initiated four years ago by the embassies of Argentina, Brazil and Chile (ABC) under the leadership of former Chilean Ambassador Roberto Mayorga. Each foreign embassy adopts a relatively poor community and funds a football training program for the youth. Then, with the cooperation of the University of Asia and the Pacific, a championship tournament is held among the various teams organized by the embassies. The next edition of the Ambassador Cup will be in August 2017.
The last mentioned NGO above, a CSR project of the Lopez Group of companies, explicitly enumerates the “values for sport and life” that sports in general is supposed to help in nurturing among the youth. Under the “Calidad Humana” program (also promoted by Ambassador Mayorga with the assistance of Dr. Antonio Torralba of UA&P), this Foundation outlines these values as follows: 1. Teamwork and Common Good: do your best for the victory of your team; your personal performance should always be towards the good of your team; your effort and achievement should never be at the expense of your team. 2. Discipline: you are part of a team and must act in accordance with the norms of your organization; be punctual in all training sessions, meetings, and games; give your goal and mindful attention to instructions given by coaches; be rigid in following the 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 other teams as playmates, not enemies; treat your opponents with respect, no matter the nationality, color, culture, and beliefs. 4. Fair play: always play fair and 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 other team. 5. Tenacity and consistency: strive to be better: today than yesterday; tomorrow than today; never give up; do not let your heart be troubled; give your best at all times, overcoming weaknesses, and making strengths productive; NEVER GIVE UP.
The sports icons I enumerated above incarnate these values. In my opinion, values and virtues are most nurtured in the game of football in which twenty two human beings have all the opportunities, given the right leadership from their respective coaches, to develop all these desirable traits to a heroic degree. I am especially thinking of the example of Pep Guardiola when he was the manager of FC Barcelona and led the team to win a record crop of trophies in Spanish, European and world football. Although I am not in the least canonizing him because he has own human weaknesses, I think Lionel Messi tops all the sports icons in practicing these “values for sports and life.” He deserves a sixth Balon d’Or award in 2017. More importantly, I will pray that he persevere in the task of building a Christian family, now that he has been married in the Catholic Church and has been fortified by the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony to face all the challenges of married life. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.