Can sport unite Filipinos?

Why are Filipinos not even good at sport? It seems like our athletes had been waved a red flag one day and then simply gave up on trying to achieve world-class status on all types of sport — I know, I know, aside from boxing, of course.

soccer2A sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive, and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play. It is governed by a set of rules or customs. There are too many words in that definition that do not apply to Filipinos really: “organized”; “competitive”; “skillful”; “fair play”; “commitment” and not to mention “set of rules”. Whew! Those are big words indeed, all of which simply fly over the average Filipino’s head.

I have always doubted other people’s claim that sport can unite us as a people. The fact that we are not good at sport is a reflection of who we are as a people. We do not have the right amount of zeal and enthusiasm for it. Our lack of ability to excel in sport is just a reflection of our lack of passion for much of anything. Even as the world gets smaller because of globalization and international sport competition, we Filipinos fail to proudly join the leagues of other Asian nations in gaining some respect in this field. We often come home empty-handed from international competitions.

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Manny Pacquiao put the Philippines on the map with his boxing skills. But not to belittle his achievements, it must be emphasized that boxing is actually an individual sport, and therefore his own individual achievement. It is not a team effort — like football, baseball or basketball — that requires team members to be organized and work in close collaboration with each other. And Manny is only one of a small few among 90 million people who excel — and he does so under the guidance of a foreign coach. Among the small few, we could count the Philippine Karatedo team among them. That team went home with three gold, two silver and one bronze medals on Sunday in the 6th Korea Open International Karatedo Championships 2010 held at the Gudeok Gymnasium in Busan, South Korea. But really, though they call themselves a “team”, that’s just another individual type of sport.

The Football International World Cup or FIFA World Cup was held in South Africa. This was the first World Cup hosted by an African nation. It was not a small feat considering the number of countries who vied for the chance to host the event. The World Cup is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event in the world. There are 32 teams from all over the world competing for the title, the Philippines not included. This is actually a shame because the average Filipino’s physical build is just right for this kind of sport. Our agility (if we remain fit) could work for us should we take football seriously. We are not too tall hence; we can run around fast without looking goofy or awkward. Why can’t we excel in this sport though? Filipinos would much rather play basketball which requires that the player be taller than the average Filipino. Filipinos love playing it but we simply can’t excel in it.

Unfortunately, the Philippine national football team, despite being one of the oldest national teams in Asia, has never had any significant success on the international stage and has never qualified for the AFC Asian Cup or the FIFA World Cup. According to recent history courtesy of Wikepedia, in September 2006 the country fell to 195th on the FIFA World Rankings, its lowest ever. By the end of the year, the Philippines moved back up to 171st overall, after qualifying for the 2007 ASEAN Football Championship with a 4–1 win over Brunei. However, their failure to advance from the preliminaries dropped the country’s ranking to 179th. After a string of poor performances, the Philippines refused to register and enter the qualification stages for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In short, we just simply gave up.

It was said that sport helped the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela sustain his spirits while in captivity for 27 years as a political prisoner. In 1995, as the president of South Africa, he handed the Rugby World Cup trophy to Francois Pienaar the captain of the victorious South African team . This single act united a nation divided and fractured by apartheid. I wish I could tell a similar story about the Philippines. For some reason, Manny Pacquaio’s win does not inspire the rest of Filipinos to strive for unity or even excellence.

Although I am not actually a sport fan, I believe that sport indeed has the power to uplift and inspire individuals. Sport is cheap and should not really cost much to get into. If you have a ball for example, you can play a game of football in your backyard or front yard. This is what we often did when we were kids and it was a lot of fun. It is really puzzling why a lot of the men in our country would rather while away their time guzzling alcohol than learn a skill and get physically fit at the same time.

One of the Philippines favorite sport is basketball. We are not good at it though and I heard that lately, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is steadily losing its fans for one reason or another. They say that the basketball team lack home grown talents hence, local fans are not really into the players. Some would say that there is a problem with the way the players play: they seem to have little passion for the game. There are also claims that some players are overweight and are not really fit to run around. The thing is, we are not really built for basketball, and the average Filipino is too short, so the association has to resort to drafting Fil-Am imports. I read somewhere that the PBA can be summarized as such: overrated players, mediocre performances and boring play. It is a sad situation that shows how our dysfunctional culture can also affect our fun and games.

Sport has a lot of enduring qualities. As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, “It shows us how to participate in something that is bigger than ourselves, and teaches us how to demonstrate respect for teammates and opponents. It helps us to learn how to win with humility and lose with grace; how to set a goal and fulfill it. Sport brings people together; the self-worth and self-belief that it teaches are values that can last a lifetime.” As I reflect on how sport can influence the progress in our country, one thing is for sure: we will not win any sporting event if we cannot learn all of the above principles. Without a deep appreciation of these principles, not even sport can unite us.

21 Replies to “Can sport unite Filipinos?”

  1. Hi Ilda,

    again a good piece. I myself gave this a lot of thought every time I visit(ed) Cebu. All I saw/see is the typical barangay basketball court and indoor arenas. I never saw a soccer/football pitch, let alone a field hockey field (my sport).
    Hopefully I am wrong but here are my 2 cents. First of all, individuality is not encouraged and not promoted in the Philippines.
    Secondly, the Philippines is known to be family-focused and family-oriented society. So, I think to be away from home for a long period of time is out of the question.
    Thirdly, most sports are not cheap. One needs to have a court/yard/field or pitch to play on. One needs an outfit (jersey, shorts, socks, (field hockey) stick. And one needs an oppononent.
    Fourthly, where are the trainers/coaches? Is there a real academy (like the very famous “Sporthoche Schule in Koeln, Germany) where trainers/coaches can be educated to coach and train young kids and adults?
    Fifthly, I think most Filipinos dont like to be active but prefer to watch sports games (whether in the arena or on TV)
    Sixthly, being short is (can be) a handicap. In football (soccer), a tall striker is better than a short striker; a tall defender is also prefered.
    Seventhly, to start becoming a sporting nation either everything starts “bottoms up” (the people must demand from the local government) building real sport fields or it must be done “top down” (the national plus local government) will promote sport actively by building sports facilities.

    IMHO, only Japan (as Asian country) is probably the “richest” (and most diversified) when it comes to participating in more than one sport. Japan is not considered to be a poor country. Need I say more?

    1. South Korea and China are known to have a wide track record in a bunch of sports, not only Japan. Look up previous Olympics.

      But yes, when it comes to the sports department, philippines have only these on their priority list:
      Billiards(Pool)-I think this one is gradually losing popularity among the public. Someone verify this for me.

      The fixation for B-ball could be traced back to Filipino’s idolization of US pop-culture, notably the African American kind. It was and still is the in thing to be into rap (Flips made the genre popular in Asia initially), acting like an “OG” while shooting hoops. Can’t say I’m all that surprised considering black culture’s endorsement of poverty and violence run parallel to Pinoy culture.

    2. Hi Robert with regards to number 6.

      Diego Maradona is 5 ft 5
      Lionel Messi is 5 ft 7
      Pele is 5 ft 8

      Not one of them would be considered tall by footballing standards but they are 3 of the world’s greatest all time players.

      1. @Yawn,

        I do not argue with you about that. Though, not sure if the men mentioned by you are indeed strikers (center forward). For them, their length was not decisive but their technical skills. In our current Dutch squad we also have a “midget”, by the name of Wesley Sneijder. But in general and overall, I think most coaches want to have large, big, lengthy strikers and big, large, lengthy central defenders. And of course there will always be the exception to the rule.

  2. 1. Basketball – we are only nation on Earth where basketball dominates our consciousness . Every other country their players are tempted by at least one type of football and / or baseball. We rarely excel in Asia. 2. Football – I think you failed to mention what little we have achieved comes from people who culturally are not remotely Filipino. All of them if given truth serum would rather represent the real country they learned their game from but are not good enough ( Spain , England etc). How can team of rejects who are barely together beat squads who truly composed of best of other countries? Besides Pinoys being bandwagon jumpers, one of the few countries with zero pro game. Yet in their minds they expect to best the rest. Naive . 3. Baseball- Japanese, Taiwanese , Koreans prove Asians are very capable of producing players fit for the major leagues and it will never happen for Filipinos. Baseball is a thinking man’s game .

    1. Korea seems to be the best benchmark for judging the Philippines’ failings against generally. It’s like watching two alternate histories play out.

  3. Hi Ilda. I just want to point out a few things.

    First, the FIFA World Cup is not “currently being held in South Africa”. This was in 2010. The upcoming World Cup this year will be held in Brazil.

    Second, it’s not that we simply gave in the 2010 World Cup. Our country wasn’t qualified or eligble since we were knocked out (or lost) in the qualification phase.

    Lastly, though this is only my opinion, height is also a factor in football. If we watch the European leagues, we would see that their players even though they are generally taller and more muscular are quicker, more agile, and more skillful than ours. So tough luck for us. But I am in no way writing our country out. However, I would take a significant amount of change in the country’s football system to make us at least compete with the world’s elite.

    I would also like to recommend that you read up on one of the most recent controversies in Philippine Football. The U23 men’s football team was blocked from joining the 2013 SEA games because they have been losing consistently for the previous SEA games. So they were blocked because they wouldn’t be able to bring home any medal. Dysfunction at its finest. hehe

    1. **”, IT would take a significant amount of change in the country’s football system to make us at least compete with the world’s elite.”

    2. @mohamad, thanks for pointing that out. This is actually a reprise of an article originally written by Ilda in 2010. I’ll make some minor changes to update it.

  4. Sports and Arts are encouraged in Induatrialized countries. You can see the countries with a lot of medals in Summer and Winter Olympics are the ones on the forefront of our civilization.

    Filipinos do not encourage their children to excel in Sports. It is out of necessity that they go to Sports. And, accidentally excel in it…Pacquiao was born poor. So, he had to box to have a decent meal…

    “Puede na yan”, is the call of the day. Not giving your best…

  5. South Korea is the only Asian country that has ever reached the semi final of the World Cup and that was in 2002.

    Sandro Reyes from Manila signed for F.C Barcelona at the age of 9.

    To develop a professional football league takes years and a lot of money. You need to start from a grass root level and build up the infrastructure including stadiums.

    Real Madrid is the world’s most valuable football club at 3.3 Billion dollars

    Manchester City is the world’s best paid sports team with an average salary of 9 million dollars.

    The English football league system is the oldest in the world and is made up 7,500 clubs with 92 full time professional teams.
    As soon as you can walk your parents are giving you a football to kick.
    You eat sleep breathe football.

    It would take your country decades to get anywhere near these standards. Football is fun passionate and exciting and should be promoted throughout your country.

  6. we have a healthy sports program in our country considering our economic status. at least our kids are not obese they are playing. at the highest level these days, sports is no longer about your slogans and one liners from blair. it is about research and development in nutrition supplements, biomechanics, high tech suits etc etc etc. all of this cost money we dont have. you cant just say unite and work hard and we’ll win hehehe i envy the bliss of the ignorant

    1. Are you in the Philippines? More obese kids here than most other countries a consequence of parents obsessed with height stuffing their children with food and growth supplements hoping they get TALL, only to find their genes are no quote right and the kid grows SIDEWAYS!!

  7. Why write an article when you know nothing about the subject? A typical Ilda article nothing but rubbish. OK so here we go; there are some very good players of golf in this country but they’re all caddies (male not female. Who sponsors this talent? Very few if anyone! Can they afford to get to regional or international level themselves, shit NO. Why are they good? Coz they get a free game each week during caddy day. So why do these useless rich f@ckers who try to play golf not help these talented caddies? Why did Efren Reyes make it? Well to play billiards is quite cheap, it’s not an expensive sport; the more who can afford to play the more likely you’ll get a global CHAMPION. Do we have government bodies or school systems here to support develop local talent? Yes, but not really. The money never filters down to those who need/deserve it. Look at our last ice skater LOL. I’m not a pinoy, and am disappointed to hear people say pinoys are lazy to participate in sport. That’s not true at all! There are as many sports minded people in this country as any other, they’re just trying to find something they can afford; badminton, running, basketball, billiards, etc. but there is no real money going into finding and developing talent. Overseas most governments have healthy budgets for this, ours doesn’t.

  8. Even if some remarks are mistaken in this article, I still believe that being competitive, doing efforts and having discipline are skills not encouraged inside Filipino society, but bandwagon behaviour, relaxing and being entertained watching anything. And, well, practicing sports are not encouraged in the schools, which is very important, plus there are no public free fields in the street to play…

  9. I’m sorry but you guys also forgot about volleyball. Volleyball is also one of Filipinos past time sports and they watch it a lot. Haven’t you guys noticed that? There are volleyball tournaments that I see in one of those TFC commercials.

    So in short, Filipinos only like basketball, boxing, volleyball, and billiards.

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