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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Philippine Progress: Shift in Sports, Shift in System

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(First published on antipinoy.com on July 7, 2010)
At the time of this writing, millions of people around the world are obsessing about the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the noise of the annoying Vuvuzela horn. From every continent, people speaking almost every language, coming from practically every race, creed, and color are excitedly watching the game called “Association Football.”  Unfortunately, there’s been relative calm in the Philippines, as hardly anyone, save for a few die-hard soccer fans, actually watched the World Cup closely.
Soccer, (coming from the word “association” in the sport’s full-name “Association Football”), called “Football” by everyone else, is also known as the world’s Beautiful Game. It is one of the most democratic sports ever – as Time Magazine recently described it. Anyone can play and excel in it: Rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, and most importantly, tall or short.  That last one is of utmost importance, considering that we Filipinos, most of whom are not very tall, are crazy about basketball – a sport that obviously favors tall players.
It has caused numerous ceasefires in many conflict zones as Israelis and Palestinians (Soccer is the biggest sport in the Middle East) or Rebel guerrillas and Government troops in continents like Africa or Latin America, often stop fighting just to watch the World Cup or other high-profile soccer matches on TV or listen to live commentaries on radio. During World War I, an informal Truce on Christmas Day in 1914 witnessed one of the most amazing displays of human fraternity as warring sides – British & French versus the Germans came together and played Soccer. After having played the game, made friends, and exchanged names & addresses, the soldiers simply could not shoot at each other once the truce ended, forcing their respective angry generals to send all of them to other fronts to fight against other enemies.
It’s a real shame because while Filipinos were glued to the NBA Finals at about the same time that the World Cup was just about starting, one unfortunate fact continues to be ignored by basketball-crazy Filipinos: We are never going to excel in sports that require height. Unlike most basketball-loving Filipinos, millions of average-height, barely middle-class, or even impoverished Africans and Latin Americans who play and practice soccer can actually dream of one day playing professionally for local or internationally-famous professional teams such as Manchester United (England), Juventus (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), or Galatasaray (Turkey) – to name a few – and live a life of fame and fortune. These are dreams which are feasible as long as whoever plays and practices the sport has the competence, talent, and commitment, because the game-dynamics of soccer simply does not require height. It needs to be said that soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina became a soccer superstar with his very Filipino height of 5 ft 4.
In stark contrast to the meritocratic nature of soccer which does not care much about being born with the genes for height, the fixation that Filipinos have for basketball creates so many shattered dreams. Millions of young Filipinos are raised to love a sport that does not love them back. Many waste inordinate amounts of time practicing the game, wishing that they would be just like Kobe Bryant when they grow up, only to grow to their full height which might be just a few inches taller than Diego Maradona – a height that is just not cut for competitive basketball.
Filipinos even love to watch the NBA play-offs, but even if the Philippines is perhaps the most basketball-crazy country in the World (Americans are more obsessed with American Football and Baseball), countries with much more diversified sporting interests such as Mainland China and the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Croatia, etc, who all watch more soccer than they do basketball, have successfully sent players to the NBA. The Philippines has never sent a Filipino to the NBA!
Numerous honest discussions and debates have erupted about the need to shift the Philippines’ team sports focus from the excessively height-centric basketball towards the more height-agnostic soccer in order to focus on a sport in which every ordinary Filipino can excel. However, the rebuttals to the contrary range from such excuses as “The cultural temperament of Filipinos makes them prefer basketball because it has a faster-pace of point-scoring while soccer’s scores are low and goal-scoring is rare” to other excuses like“soccer requires a huge field in order to play while basketball needs a much smaller space.”

Who says you need a field to play soccer?
Both excuses fall flat considering that Filipinos are ethnically and even temperamentally similar to the Malays of Malaysia and Brunei (except in religion), both of whom enjoy and excel in soccer within the ASEAN region. It can be argued too that most Latin Americans, with whom Filipinos share common Spanish colonial history vis-à-vis Hispano-America and a very similar Iberian heritage with Portuguese-speaking Brazil, are somewhat culturally similar to Filipinos (especially in their sense of humor) and yet they too enjoy the sport immensely and are perhaps among the most excellent players of the Beautiful Game in the World. Most importantly, millions of impoverished Latin-Americans and Africans often practice playing soccer just about anywhere, be it on a small field, a dusty road, or even a small backyard. Some of the world’s highest-paid soccer stars come from such an impoverished background and they often cherish their childhood memories of growing up, playing soccer barefoot with plastic bottles or anything they can kick around as their ball, drawing lines on the ground to serve as their “goals.” It is just not true that Filipinos cannot shift to soccer.
The unfortunate fact is that Filipinos prefer to stick to whatever status quo they’ve grown used to. The real problem here is Inertia: the resistance to change.
Resistance to Change
Indeed, there is something really flawed about the situation, and Filipinos have to immediately correct it. Unfortunately, there seems to be something about us Filipinos that exacerbates our resistance to change: We have a tendency to refuse to admit that a problem exists, and often prefer to just ignore it and sweep the problem under the rug. In case that problem stares squarely at us, thereby making it impossible to ignore, quite often, we just outright refuse to do the work that would fix that problem and just endure the resulting mediocrity. Worse, many Filipinos prefer to make excuses that seek to justify such refusal to fix the problem, oftentimes reasoning – using intellectual dishonesty – that trying to fix the problem would actually make things worse.
We need not look far to see that this problem is not solely confined to the world of sports, in which increasing attention is being placed on the Soccer versus Basketball debate. Just recently, journalist and current Ambassador to Greece, Rigoberto Tiglao, recently wrote a two-part special on why Filipinos are not into Soccer.

The Tall Man’s Game
In it, he likened the need for Filipinos to carefully consider shifting from basketball to soccer and the difficulty in convincing Filipinos to do so, with the fact that many Filipinos still stubbornly refuse to at least attempt to consider the objective merits of the Parliamentary System as a possible option to replace the current Philippine Presidential System. It has been observed that the Philippine Presidential System’s skew towards popularity and name-recall , coupled with the Philippine Electorate’s preference for form over substance that unfortunately brought about perhaps the most embarrassing stain on the Philippines’ international reputation in 1998, when celebrity actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada won as President of the Philippines. The Philippines had another close call in 2004 when his fellow celebrity actor and close friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. almost won. And just recently in May 2010, the convicted-of-plunder ex-President Estrada who was deposed in 2001 ran again and took second place.
In the meantime, numerous politicians aspiring for the Presidency jockey for positions in the equally useless and non-representative Philippine Senate (whose Senators do not represent constituencies unlike in the USA, where Senators are elected per State), and as a result, the Philippine Senate has numerous “Senactors” (Senators who are actors) as well as politicians married to actresses or celebrities.
We continue to be a basketball-crazed society that is isolated from the soccer-loving rest of the world and yet we can’t even excel in this game we so love, nor can we send talented Filipino players to the NBA because basketball is a game that clearly favors height and we simply do not have the height that would at least give us a fighting chance.
In almost the exact same way, we continue to clamor for improvements in our lives, our economic livelihood, and the quality of our politics, yet because of a system of government whose electoral procedure (choosing the name of an individual candidate running for President) clearly favors “winnability” (popularity and name-recall) over competence, we end up with incompetent people who become President only because of their celebrity status or famous surnames. At other times, we also end up with leaders who – though sometimes competent – are forced to pander to the public lest they risk being unable to govern if they fail to play the popularity game.
When will we Filipinos realize that for us to excel in team sports, we need to choose a sport where competence and real talent are much more important than one’s height?
When will we Filipinos realize that for our society to be better-run, more efficient, and more responsive to our people’s needs, we need to choose a system of government in which quality policy-making, platform relevance, and competence take overwhelming precedence over petty traits such as celebrity-status, personal popularity, and name-recall?
Knowing that both basketball and the current Presidential System are not good for us, why then do we Filipinos continue to insist on sticking it out with the both of them instead of making the necessary changes that would correct the problems that these two Problematic American Imports continue to cause?
Once upon a time, Albert Einstein said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

Excerpt from https://correctphilippines.org/philippineprogress/

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