MANILA, JUNE 13, 2006
 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores (Soccer is a game in which everyone does a lot of running around. Twenty-one guys stand around and one guy does a tap dance with the ball. – Jim Murray)

(To the aesthete it is an art form, an athletic ballet. To the spiritually inclined it is a religion. – Paul Gardner)

The ball has stopped wars and started them, whipsawed financial markets and sent shivers of ineluctable joy and cardiac arrest rippling across entire countries at the same moment. And the way it rolls at the World Cup means everything. Because of it, a tenuous truce between the government and rebels in the Ivory Coast holds firm, politicos in Mexico worry that voters will ignore a presidential election, and several more in Ecuador gladly shelved their campaigns in the coming month," enthuses Associated Press sports columnist Jim Litke.

"From June 9 to July 9, the globe will spin according to the rhythms of that ball. Teams from 32 qualifying nations will kick it in a dozen German cities for the singular honor of hoisting a cup. The trophy stands 14 inches tall, weighs 14 pounds and is made of 18-karat gold. The real measure of its heft, though, can be found in the scene it depicts: two human figures holding up the Earth. More than the Olympics and anything short of actual war, it crowns the world’s reigning superpower for the next four years." As The World Cup Sizzles, Our Politicos Fight Their Word Cup! For years and years, I couldn’t understand how the power elite of the Philippines could allow our society to ignore the world’s most popular spectator sport, soccer, in favor of that legacy of American colonialism, basketball, an unwinnable sport thanks to our naturally height-challenged physiques. Why no cheerleading from the top to embrace soccer? What is so disgusting is that most of our so-called leaders are obsessed with their own boring Word Cup – endless and mostly selfish political debates that have not resulted in substantial socio-economic reforms.

There is something fatally flawed about this whole situation. Years ago, during a previous World Cup, when billions of people worldwide were excited about the games, I couldn’t find a single Philippine TV station that showed it with the exception of some five-star hotel lounges. Years after the so-called nationalists jumped up and down with glee over the closure of the US military bases, our society is still a cultural colony of the Yankees. My proof of that? Our unending, hopeless passion for basketball!

Why are we wasting the talents of our most athletic young people by encouraging them to dribble, jump and shoot like Lebron James or Michael Jordan when they will never have the height of Yao Ming? There’s no hope for the Philippine basketball team to even make it to the world finals or the Olympics versus the tall Europeans or the blacks. Isn’t this a modern version of Don Quixote on a national scale, pouring most of our meager government and private sector sports resources on basketball instead of soccer and other sports? Ordinary people like me going loco over basketball is normal, but how can our so-called leaders lack the vision to push more suitable, winnable sports?

It’s the same tragedy of the many students who go every year to study management or law in Philippine schools. There’s not much to manage in our economy nowadays, and we already have too many lawyers, who unfortunately, like our politicians, we cannot export into the world market as overseas Filipino workers! Instead of studying fancy management courses or law, we need to train more engineers, agri-business experts, information-technology technicians and medical workers. Soccer Is Democratic, Builds Team Spirit & Can Make Us World Champs Jim Litke recently wrote on the world’s most popular spectator sport, which unfortunately is not yet popular in the Philippines:

"In 1967, both sides in Nigeria’s civil war agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so that Pele, the Brazilian forward considered the most magical player ever, could show off his skills in an exhibition match.

"Last October, after Ivory Coast clinched a trip to Germany, President Laurent Gbagbo acceded to the entreaties of his football federation and restarted peace talks in a country riven by conflict since 1999.

"On the other hand, a series of disputes between El Salvador and Honduras boiled over in 1969 when their national teams met to begin a three-game World Cup qualification series. A riot during the second game ruptured diplomatic relations and was followed two weeks later by the 100-hour ‘Soccer War’ that claimed 2,000 lives."

The writer continues: "It has been said there is no greater drama in sport than watching a team trying to validate its national character in a World Cup. That is as true today as it was in the game’s formative years. More than a half-century ago, Uruguay, the original South American power, upset Brazil, the emerging one, and eight Uruguayans were said to have dropped dead from heart attacks as the country erupted in celebration."

Why do I love soccer like the majority of the people on planet Earth? It’s not only because my late father used to play it in his youth, when lots of local Chinese played soccer in pre-war Philippine schools. It’s not only because I believe soccer is a democratic sport ideal for the masses, not elitist like golf or horseback-riding or even tennis, which most people in our Third World society cannot afford to play. The Brazilian soccer legend Pele couldn’t afford a football as a kid and used to play using a sock filled with papers or a grapefruit. The Argentinian champion Diego Maradona was also a poor boy from a shantytown south of Buenos Aires where he learned soccer.

There are many reasons why we Asians should passionately embrace soccer. It’s a game where height does not really matter – just look at that short Argentinian Maradona. Soccer has other positive qualities: it’s a team sport that can help build team spirit, and it’s also a low-scoring game that will encourage the virtue of patience. Above all, I love soccer because it’s not a game only for the glamorous David Beckhams or the rich, industrialized powers of the West who once colonized the rest of the world. It is a fun, dramatic and democratic sport where Asian nations like the Philippines, Korea and China or even poor African nations like Ghana and Togo can someday become world champs!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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