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Dreaming about the World Cup: Not impossible

CONNOR COYNE-UNSPLASH

(Part 4)

I am convinced that by combining the efforts of both public and private groups committed to helping the Philippine football national team to qualify for the World Cup, we can, in less than a decade, actually achieve what seemed to be in the past an impossible dream.

I am encouraged by the fact that world-class players like Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Gavi, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres and many others started to play for their respective national teams in the World Cup when they were still in their teens or at least in their early 20s. We should work on giving intensive training to the likes of Sandro Reyes of Southridge who, when he was 13, was admitted to the famous football school called La Masia of FC Barcelona which trained Messi, Iniesta (who won the World Cup for Spain in 2010), Javi Hernandez, and many other world-class players. If we do so, within a decade or so, we can have enough quality players to enable the Azkals qualify for the World Cup — way before the end of this century.

Among the most active in the private sector in promoting football (and futsal) as a national sport are the officials of the Henry V. Moran Foundation, headed by Danny Moran.

In an e-mail to me, commenting on the first articles in this series, he opined that the success of football in the Philippines will come more from the women’s rather than the men’s team — warming the hearts of those advocating gender equality. The Filipinas (the national Women’s Football Team, formerly known as the Malditas) already qualified to play in the Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand this year.

Danny informed me that Vic Hermans, the Technical Director for Philippine Futsal of the Henry V. Moran Foundation, observes that in the Southeast Asian region (and probably even in the whole of Asia), Filipinas are stronger and more diverse in their skills/abilities (due to different strengths coming from the diverse regions within the Philippine Archipelago). In addition, Filipino women are more competitive in sports as compared to their Asian and Middle Eastern counterparts, particularly in futsal. This is evidenced by the fact that our women have won more international championships in sports than our men, such as in golf, tennis, weight lifting, martial arts, and even boxing.

Danny reiterates the wisdom of starting with futsal as the way to develop football. Futsal is relatively new in Asia so the Philippines has better chances of taking a lead in its development, especially for women. Although the national Women’s Football Team made it to the World Cup, over 80% of the team members are Fil-foreigners, mostly from the United States. Because of the stiff competition abroad, especially in Europe and the United States, we are a long way from getting local players to ever qualify for the National Team. This problem is aggravated by the fact that we lack football fields in our public schools. There are very few local women’s football leagues. It is really a challenge to find local talents.

With futsal, girls from the ages of six to eight can start playing in our public-school basketball courts all over the country. Because of the huge numbers of our youth, some of these girls can find their way to the National Football team in the near future. There is also the psychological reality that as they reach their puberty, girls tend to be more mature, responsible, and motivated than boys of the same ages as reflected by the higher grades of girls in junior and senior high schools as compared to those of their male classmates. Dropout rates among girls at these school levels are also lower.

It is an opportune time to introduce futsal as part of the sports curriculum in public schools because of the renewed priority that Vice-President Sara Duterte, who is the Education Secretary, wants to assign to values education or character development in the public schools. There are private schools like those of the Don Bosco priests or of the Parents for Education Foundation (providentially headed by Danny Moran as Chairman) who consider “sports as means for character development.” The programs of these private schools can be used as templates for the widespread introduction of futsal into the public schools.

As Kevin Goco, a close associate of Danny in the promotion of futsal and football, wrote in an e-mail to me: “I believe DepEd (Department of Education) can learn a lot from the implementation of the Sports Club program in the PAREF (Parents for Education Foundation) schools. DepEd has a budget to fund the Sports Club program in public schools and it is a model based on a consultancy engagement with Stella Urbiztondo with the Department. Stella was also PAREF’s consultant for its own Sports Club Program. It has a head start and decided to roll out the Sports Club Program early in 2022 while DepEd is still in the deliberation stage on how to implement the program. I recently attended a conference hosted by DepEd where they discussed which sports to prioritize under the Sports Club program. The priority sports were all individual and indigenous sports (badminton, table tennis, sepak takraw, weightlifting). Futsal and football were not even in the list, and sadly most team sports were left out. It seems that the National Academy of Sports, which is the new government sports academy under DepEd and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), is prioritizing individual sports where there is a higher chance of obtaining medals, such as in weightlifting, table tennis, shooting and taekwondo.”

It has to be pointed out, however, that the focus on getting individual medals completely ignores the greater impact of team sports, if properly played, on the building of character and the inculcation of the appropriate values among a large number of Filipino youth. The fostering of individual sports has limited multiplier effects on vast numbers of school children, especially at the basic education levels.

Promoting futsal and football in the public schools, however, will not be a walk in the park. A good number of bureaucratic and cultural obstacles have to be overcome. It is, therefore, important that all sectors of Philippine society are convinced that football is a sport in which Filipinos can excel, given enough support, and that football is an effective means of developing the appropriate values among the youth.

I am fully aware of the hurdles very ably enumerated by my friend and former school mate at De La Salle University, Oscar Lagman, who wrote in this paper that aspiring to be qualify for the World Cup in the next decade or so is a “pipe dream.” I can only reply “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I have also learned not to downplay basketball as I advocate greater interest among the youth in football. It need not be an “either/or” proposition. Even if football will always play second fiddle to basketball, our demographic dividend for at least the next 20 years will provide us enough young people for both sports.

Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

bernardo.villegas@uap.asia

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