I often wonder if the things that we as a people are very fond of are the very things that prevent us from unifying and prospering as a nation. By this I mean, of course, many of our cultural practices.
What if, for instance, basketball were not introduced and promoted by the Americans, and football, er, “soccer”, remained the most popular sport? Would we figure internationally in the sport? As Recah Trinidad pointed out in his column, the sport is virtually in its death throes despite its immense, even shocking, popularity around the world. Kids from Africa to Antartica (well, assuming there are enough people in Antartica to form a football team, hehe) play football, not hoops, in their backyards. Although invented in Europe as a game among “gentlemen”, i.e. rich male yuppies, colonialism eventually brought the sport to virtually every corner of the world. Today, some of the world’s football powerhouses are national teams of “developing” countries like Brazil, Argentina and some of the impoverished African countries like Senegal and Ghana.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, even the most ardent sports enthausiasts remain unconcerned with the events currently unfolding in Germany (hello? World Cup!). While the world awaits with bated breath the winner of the World Cup final between Italy and France, — even who between Portugal and Germany will salvage their pride and claim No. 3 — local sports channels continue to refuse covering the games live. Live matches are available only in pay per view and “exclusive” sports bars and hotels, inaccessible to the TV-watching masses whose sights just last week were transfixed to their sets watching the “semi-live”, ho-hum Pacquiao-Larios fight.
This puzzles me, because as a kid, I never knew of anybody in school or among playmates who wanted to be a professional boxer (admittedly, though, this may have been a function of my lower middle-class upbringing: boxers ‘ physiques are easier developed with manual labor ; interest in it usually cultivated with the lack of employment opportunities). I do remember, however, friends who were passionate about football. It was, in fact, the most popular sport in school second only to basketball. I myself was drawn to football, though only after realizing I lacked the aptitude and altitude required in basketball.
Whatever the motive, though, I remember so thoroughly enjoying playing football — the running, the kicking, the exhilaration, even the frigging cramps after hours of playing. Sheer difficulty of the sport (watching it, one usually has the impression that football is an easy game to play. Try running up and down a 90-meter field for an hour and a half, in between moments of being roughed up by opposing team players) and the pure joy of each rare goal.
Filipinos love sports, and we would probably enjoy football given the opportunity.