MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 July) – Azkals, the Philippine national football team, today plays its first of two games against Kuwait in the second qualifying round for the World Cup. Many of our countrymen must be praying that the national team would overcome the bigger and physical Kuwaitis.
Judging from the crowd that turned up during the Azkals’ game against lowly Sri Lanka in Manila, football may yet experience a renaissance in this basketball-crazy archipelago. Thanks to media hype about the team and the attention lavished on Phil Younghusband’s liking for actress Angel Locsin, more and more fans are getting hooked to the sport.
As a lover of the sport I should be celebrating too the modest gains the team has achieved so far. In fact, this is the first time the country has reached the World Cup’s second qualifying round. Yet one thing disturbs me. No it’s not the prospect of losing to the more experienced Kuwaitis and saying goodbye yet again to our World Cup dreams.
I feel uneasy that most of the national players are not homegrown talents but half-Filipinos who grew up and acquired citizenships in other countries, and yet have the right to be in the team by virtue of the dual citizenship law. And wow, it’s only upon joining the Azkals that they tried to learn to sing the Lupang Hinirang, the national anthem. At least, that’s a feat for Ripleys – national players who couldn’t sing the anthem of the country they play for. Still, a national TV network found it fit for the evening news. Well, as they say, oddity is news.
The people tasked to handle the national football team are not the first to indulge in this practice but those in basketball. Recall how the Philippine Basketball Association has become a lucrative arena for half-Filipinos who couldn’t make it to the National Basketball Association. Sure, they’re taller and heftier. Yet even with their presence the Philippines has repeatedly failed to regain her supremacy in Asian basketball. Worse, our basketball gurus have refused to accept that aside from powerhouses China and South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and even Middle Eastern countries have overtaken us in this sport.
Like many other Filipinos the PBA was a favorite pastime for me. That was before second-rate – maybe even third-rate – Filipino-American players came to steal the show – and cash – from their local counterparts. And while they’re bigger than the locals, their moves are lousy and lack artistry, an injustice to the hefty pay they’re getting. How I miss the heydays of the likes of Samboy Lim, Vergel Meneses and other stars of pure Filipino blood. How I commiserated too with Jojo Lastimosa who waged a losing battle against the entry of more half-breeds into the local basketball scene.
Nobody as yet has done a Jojo Lastimosa for football. Considering the popularity of the Azkals at the moment, one can only do so at the risk of being bludgeoned by their fans. But the practice of packing the nation’s pool of athletes with Filipino-foreigners (Filipino what?) should stop. It not only deprives local players of the chance to figure in international competitions, but also gives the impression that our athletic glory lies in acquiring mixed ancestries, in particular with people in the West. It’s a subtle underestimation of the ability of local athletes.
The first decade of the 21st century had gone by, and here we are, still held captive by a neocolonial mindset that has extended itself into the realm of sports. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)