Friday, June 11, 2010
When I came to Thailand, I realized how crazy the Thais are with football. I don't know where to begin describing their passion for the sports, but a recent global study shows that, only second to the British, Thais spend the most time talking about football.
I was told as well that, although by no means as intense as the Thais, football is a phenomenally huge sport in Asia, which I did not doubt of course but the magnitude of which I did not realize until much later on. I've always associated football only with the Europeans and South Americans. How wrong could I have been! Football is not called the world's religion for nothing.
So it's quite amusing that football did not make a dent in the consciousness of Las Islas Filipinas up to now. We've always been a country of the three Bs: basketball, billiards, and boxing. It's easy to understand why billiards and boxing are popular back home that was brought by the international fame of Efren "Bata" Reyes and Manny Pacqiuao.
But basketball is another matter. We certainly haven't been anywhere near as successful in gaining international recognition for basketball and I doubt if we ever will. In a country with an average male height of perhaps five feet and six inches, it is a fact that we don't have the body frames for basketball.
There's no stopping us from enjoying basketball anyway. We might as well declare it as our national sport rather than sepak takraw, which I believe is only played in the National Games and nowhere else. Basketball, on the other hand, is our national past-time.
To prove our passion for basketball, all over the Philippines there's always a basketball ring in any conceivable space where people can set it up: right in the middle of the street, in the front yard, or on the school grounds. The sizes of those courts are not even decent enough to be called as such but the kanto boys spend all day playing hoops in those cramped spaces nonetheless.
Most politicians know very well that the way to the people's heart (and ballots) is through a basketball court. It's no wonder why basketball courts are perhaps their favorite project. Forget about school buildings or irrigation infrastructure. Put a court in the middle of a slum or in the hinterlands and the voters are constantly thankful of the politician's benevolence, especially with the face of the oh so generous politician painted right on the ring-board as a reminder that the court was "constructed with the efforts of...".
The close relationship between basketball and Philippine politics was firmly established and reached its apex when Robert Jaworski Sr was elected to the Philippine Senate. Jawo notwithstanding, we have lesser basketball superstars, who bag a number of endorsements here and there, or marry the most annoying woman in the Philippines, right James Yap?
So while the Philippines go gaga over James Yap, the rest of the world is possessed with worshiping Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham, or perhaps frantically betting between Brazil and Spain.
Why then did football skip the Philippines? Why is the NBA series championships more compelling to Filipinos than the World Cup?
Ask a Filipino if he watches football and you'd get a scratch on the head for an answer. Or perhaps he'd reply: "Football? You mean soccer?".