Thursday, 16 December 2010

Amazing 'Azkals'

Manila Times

The unexpected yet stunning victory recently of the Philippine soccer team over reigning champion Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup has done more than just fill up our chests with pride. By winning and advancing to the semifinals that begin Thursday, the Philippine team—fondly called the “Azkals” —jolted

Filipinos who have long ignored football. On the political front, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri delivered a privileged speech on Monday extolling the Azkals and calling for a Senate investigation into the problems plaguing Philippine football.

Ironically, said Sen. Zubiri in his speech, the Philippine win also brought to national attention the sorry state of football in the country. After the Azkal victory, the Philippines tried but failed to host the semifinals, because the country lacks the accredited facility to host international football matches. He blamed the lack of passion and the “possible corruption” in the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) and other sports agencies that receive government funding. He also slammed the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) for inefficiency and negligence that apparently were to blame for the country’s national sports programs inadequacy in meeting international commitments and in carrying out their respective constitutional mandates to fulfill the needs of the youth.

The PSC is set to receive P400 million in the proposed 2011 national budget to fund various grassroots programs, Sen. Zubiri said in his speech. The commission is to receive P168 million for its operating expenses, and the rest is to be divided among the National Sports Associations, presumably including the one for football.

We support Sen. Zubiri’s call for a Senate investigation. We hope it will be productive in aiding lawmakers in revising or in crafting new legislation needed to strengthen, not just football, but the entire Philippine sports-development agenda. Many of the past Senate probes have not amounted to much, and so we will be watching the hearings with keen interest.

Also, we echo the senator’s call on President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd to show leadership in addressing the problems besetting the national sports development. We believe this issue provides him with an opportunity to deliver on his promise to fight corruption.

Appropriate sports development

In fact, we hope the President uses his high popularity to develop a number of athletic programs other than basketball, which for now is the country’s most popular sport. Not a few people have suggested that the Philippines should promote athletic programs that are physically appropriate for Filipinos. Evidently, Filipinos are not built for basketball, where tall players are the norm rather than the exception.

Football—or soccer—is but one of the many team sports that merit government attention, if not additional funding. It is the most widely played game in the world, with some 265 million registered players, as of the count in a 2006 survey of all the FIFA member associations and their affiliates. And there are other sports.

For instance, the Philippines could also look at developing baseball. Not only is baseball more suitable to Filipinos physically, the sport also offers more career opportunities for professional athletes. Note the number of Fil-Americans in major league baseball, like pitcher Tim Lincecum of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Professional leagues in Japan and Taiwan also offer career opportunities for Asian baseball players. Filipino professional basketball players, however, have but a small chance of playing in the National Basketball Association or in other professional leagues, because the basic requirement is height.
The same goes for volleyball, swimming, and most of the athletics events, except middle- and long-distance running.

The government could redirect funds to the sports programs that develop skills in games that average Filipinos can excel in, particularly football. Government can also increase funding that support the sports-development programs of public schools, from elementary to college. If we wait to train our athletes until they enter university, obviously they will be no match against those who have been playing competitively since they were toddlers.

Good luck to the Azkals

Most successful athletes started playing their sport at a young age. The same is true with soccer and probably with many of the players in Team Azkal.

The team was to leave late Tuesday for Jakarta, where they face a tough match against the Indonesians who will enjoy home-court advantage. Indonesia may be a football powerhouse and the obvious favorite, but we think the Azkals have heart.

The Filipino players also have history on their side. In his privileged speech, Sen. Zubiri reminded us all about a Filipino among football’s greats—the all but forgotten Paulino Alcantara. He was the all-time top scorer in the world of football with 356 goals in 357 games from 1912 to 1916, the senator said in his speech.

It seems that football is in our blood after all. We just forgot about it until the Azkals reminded us by defeating defending champion Vietnam in the AFF Suzuki Cup. The Philippines and Indonesia are the only teams that have suffered no losses in this tournament. Indonesia is ahead of champion Vietnam and us in the group standings.

No matter the outcome of the match against Indonesia, the Azkals have already won the hearts of Filipinos everywhere.

Of course, we hope for the best. And so our final message goes to the Azkals facing a tough opponent: You make us proud, regardless of the game’s outcome. But all the same, give ‘em hell.

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