Tag Archives: football

A World (Cup) to Win

Thousands of students take part

Protests in Brazil that broke out at the onset of this year’s Confederation’s Cup (FIFA’s dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup) have grown exponentially. With more than a million people clamoring for social change this has been the largest protest the country has seen since the military dictatorship which ended in 1985. The Brazilian government has been targeted for hosting a World Cup that has cost the people over 9 billion pounds in taxpayers money while social services remain grossly neglected.

What began as a movement against the increase in transport fares has blossomed into a movement angry at both the government’s commercial priorities and belittlement of the country’s immense social inequalities.

In 2007 FIFA and the Brazilian government promised the entire event to be privately funded. That’s why when reports of the public resources being used surfaced, the uproar shook the around 100 cities. Prior to this it had been announced that the two governing bodies decided to build/renovate 12 stadiums instead of the initial 8, some of which have been pegged as white elephants. Coupled with the knowledge that FIFA had also announced record breaking revenues from corporate sponsorship and broadcasting rights only fueled the growth of the movement even more. As in all World Cups the bulk of the revenue goes to FIFA leaving small business owners with a month or so of good business but without any significant improvement their livelihood.

Honestly, part of the reason it took me so long to write this is that I do want to watch the World Cup, among other things (first entry in a year). You can’t help but cringe at the initial thought of the cup being cancelled. This is why we need to take a deeper look in that these actions are for the masses, the backbone of football that nobody can discount. As the Confederation’s Cup semi-final is set to start in a few hours, massive actions are expected to kick-off simultaneously to assert democratic rights and in some ways try to save football.

What the World Cup has done to Brazil

It’s strange to think of Brazil rejecting the WC. Many football fans know that Brazil do not only expect to do well in the competition, they expect to win it; all the time. As early as the 1950 World Cup (also hosted by Brazil) they built the Maracana, which remains the largest football stadium on the planet. It’s not so much a football ground as it is a national monument; similar to what the Eiffel Tower is to France.

They reached the Finals almost unscathed only to face defeat at the hands of Uruguay. This prompted the nation to ponder what caused this defeat as some even turned to racism, blaming the black players as not “Brazilian enough” to win the game. Of course this was decades ago, but the point is that until now, many Brazilians feel almost historically predisposed to win at football. With a mediocre national team, they have found a way to raise the game in another way.

While the people say they are angry at the government’s practice of hosting the WC, the tournament itself is has come into question and has rightly positioned FIFA as the organization that has turned the greatest event of the game into a plundering scheme. It is still hard to imagine the cup in the middle of the issue especially in Brazil, a nation that has more or less elevated the game to the grandeur it has today by bagging the most number of championships and setting the standard upon which future winners would be judged.

This is precisely why it is so important, Brazilians are making an example of the World Cup as something that is so strongly woven into their identity and yet is something they can cast aside if they needed to. The game regarded in Brazil as Jogo Bonito (beautiful game), an art form in itself not only takes a backseat to democratic struggle but needs to conform to the longstanding demands of the people. In a sense they are “taking back” the World Cup off the pitch.

A combination picture shows demonstrators

The message of winning the World Cup and protesting the abuses of the government and FIFA is an important example for developing countries. Winning has provided Brazilians with the mentality that on some stages  they are the better than wealthy nations, they are untouchable. The latter has shown that a demonstration against fare hikes can lead to a re-imagining of an entire chunk of your identity and greater change. Once again the World Cup has indirectly served as a catalyst.

Football fans, enthusiasts, pundits among others need to take notice and not use this as an excuse to simply criticize Sepp Blatter’s reign at FIFA. This resistance has transcended the game, in that for the game to survive it cannot be subject to corporate interests. The fact that this is the largest protest “democratic” Brazil has seen says a lot. It says that Brazil does not differ from the oppression and staggering inequalities felt worldwide. It says that Brazil does not differ from the oppression and staggering inequalities felt worldwide. Fitting that it had to come at this time in a country which, as BBC remarked, is poised to practically parallel its history in terms of how its national team fared in the tournament.

Do we want a World Cup?

Without question, billions of people want to see the World Cup. No doubt many of the protesters are also football fans rooting for their respective clubs, they are not against football which they have clarified many times but this is too much. Many of us need to understand: football for them is not only for arenas, it is for the streets and for everybody as it should be – not distant from how Pele and Garrincha started playing. FIFA has already stated that there is no Plan B and they are determined to push through in Brazil.

I, like many other patiently waited for Brazil 2014, simply cannot recreate or even conceive of the dramatic possibilities in a World Cup. I remember watching a nation like Ghana defeat the United States, the superpower on the biggest stage in South Africa last 2010. Holidays are declared in countries that have a game, busy streets look like ghost towns, stereotypes are shattered, political rivalries put to test on the pitch; the world at a standstill in short. However when the cost is too much, we are reminded that football is the most important of unimportant things as the saying goes.

This wave of political consciousness is admirable; it shows support for the struggles of the marginalized and an unraveling of sorts of a more progressive social identity. Once again, Brazil is at the forefront of football, this time on the streets. Yes, we do want a World Cup, now we want one that doesn’t rob the people and tear down their homes in the process. Even if it takes millions more to march on the streets.


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A Tribute to Paulino Alcantara

entry is also published on backpagefootball

While much of the talk is currently surrounding the incumbent FIFA World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi having recently netted his 194th goal for FC Barcelona in all competitions making him the 2nd highest scorer for the world’s best club, I decided to take a look at the 1st. The half-Spanish, half-Filipino man from Iloilo, Philippines that is Paulino Alcantara has scored 357 goals in 357 games for the Blaugrana famously breaking a net from one of them. This is not an attempt to make comparisons from the two in terms of form or goalscoring ability, rather a look into the lessons that we can take from what Alcantara has achieved in terms of the current setting of Philippine football and society.

Monkey Man

I also recently came across a poem by G.P. Abrajano that illustrates some of what I want to say in terms of approaching the subject . Taken from his blog lookmaimawriter.blogspot : http://lookmaimawriter.blogspot.com/2011/04/el-rompe-redes-or-legend-of-brown-man.html

El Rompe Redes, or The Legend of the Brown Man of Barcelona

Because we are the visitors,
the home crowd shows us hostility.
Because I am different,
the home team shows me hostility.

I have three defenders
guarding me at all times.

“Monkey,” they call me,
for my pale brown skin is not
olive-brown like an Italian,
my dark eyes are not
bright blue like an Aryan,
and the bridge of my nose is not
aquiline like a Roman.

They could at least be more precise
and call me “Half-Monkey”,
for my father is a Spaniard,
who married a short brown native woman
from the Philippine islands.

But to them,
my blood counts for nothing.
Half a monkey is still a monkey.

I am the only brown man
on a field of twenty-two players.

My teammates can see past
the color of my skin.
I am treated like a brother─
an equal (maybe even greater)─
because I score goals,
because I win matches,
and because they all know
I am the best player
among my white-skinned peers.

That is why my defenders look at me
with anger in their eyes
and hate in their hearts.
They will never allow
a monkey to beat them
in this beautiful game
they created.

I now have the ball,
and the defenders tighten their guard,
like zookeepers out to corral
an escaped chimpanzee,
and they hurl their tightly-woven
nets of prejudice
as they try to hold the monkey down.

But I am too fast for them.
I leave all the defenders behind,
nothing left for them to do but stare
at the number on the back of my jersey:
Number 1.

Racing toward the goal,
I cock my leg back,
and strike the ball
like the hammer of a gun,
and send the bullet flying.

I watch the goalkeeper’s
bright blue eyes,
following the ball in disbelief
as it passes through his hands
and over his straw-colored head.

And the goal’s net cannot hold my shot,
just as the zookeeper’s net cannot hold the monkey.
My bullet travels so fast
that it breaks the net completely through,
splicing the fibers that hold
the twine of reality together.

The entire home crowd
is stunned into silence,
and the joyous uproar of our visiting team
praising my magnificent monkey kick
becomes the salt of insult
that sprinkles over the wounds of their egos.

In the cheery blue eyes of my teammates,
I am El Rompe Redes─
The Net Breaker.
My name will live in legend,
and the club will pass down my story
from generation to generation.

But in the teary blue eyes of my opponents,
I will live in infamy.
They will never see me
as the player who scored the winning goal
amidst the hostile conditions
of an away crowd.
My name will be spoken with loathing,
for I will live forever in their memory
as the monkey who destroyed their net.

Are we monkeys? Have we really extinguished the derogatory and verbal racist term that is “Indio” used during the Spanish colonial centuries? While we may have our own government and National Football team, globalization begs to differ. While we are not monkeys in any respect, the prevailing culture and economics imported from global superpowers assumes this. Is it not tantamount to calling us monkeys when the United States can unconstitutionally put an unmonitored number of US troops who commit thousands of human rights abuses and cannot be put to trial by Filipino courts? Are our courts unfit to preside over crimes committed throughout their campaign to garner military strength in the region? The country is the first to be colonized by the US in the region and is by no coincidence their largest political and economic partner for the last 100 years, a bigger investor in the Philippines than Filipinos themselves. In the same light does the US condemn the introduction of Palestine into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as if this historic recognition of Palestinians is somehow premature. FIFA at least considers Palestine’s existence as they have a national team while they basically said Palestinian people are unfit to decide their lives and better off being bullied/bombed by Israel and the US into submission. This is eerily similar to statements by former US Senator Alfred Beveridge during the Filipino-American war that there are “not 100 men among them (Filipinos) who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon government even means, they are to be governed.” We are monkeys in their eyes by their treatment of our country, monkeys who are rattling the cages and are feared, Paulino Alcantara was feared off the pitch as well.

The Fil-Am War lasted from 1899 to 1902 eradicating 1/6 of the Philippine people

Alcantara was a testament to a largely ignorant time of the Filipino capacity, he did play his national football for the Philippines, and he did it on the pitch of the colonizers. Post-Alcantara Philippine football has only been met with sporadic spurts of talent yet not really cultivating the level of development that is being brought upon today. Some say it is probably due to the American introduction of basketball. Football on the other hand as I’ve mentioned in previous entries is truly a globalized phenomenon, ideally equal for all. While its origins and bulk of skill resides in Europe, there are always victorious challengers; South America is one, whilst Africa and Asia are on their way.

Brown Man’s burden?

While Alcantara is by far neither the sole or best example for articulating nationalist sentiments, he is the biggest product of our country to typify elements of nationalism in a time when confusion over what the Filipino is was at a high. Alcantara abandoned cultural norms, which in this case separated the man from the monkey.

What then of today’s Philippine football conundrum, while Alcantara faced racism abroad, there are some local facets of the current footballing culture that condemns the “over-reliance” on Fil-Foreigners. Ethnocentrism can also be mistaken for nationalism. This contradicts our appraisal of Alcantara when obviously Caligdong and Borromeo are equally important to the team. Taking Fil-foreign players is not a rejection of national strength but a reintroduction of the sport taking it to its undoubtedly global appeal and character. One that is not meant to compromise national markers of the sport but to cultivate it. Globalization and the oppression that comes with it entails discrimination and we only do it favors by treating our kind like monkeys unfit to wear our colors on common soil.

Monkey Man by The Specials illustrates an ordinary situation with very Anglo-Saxon interpretations of racial interaction.

Anglo Saxon Trap

All of this implies a largely Anglo Saxon view of racial inequalities, as pointed out by Elliott in his article Race, Language and Symbolism, meaning using the western notion and standard of race to judge the differences between light and dark. We did not invent racism, it was a bonus from being colonized, we did however innovate the tools of which to combat it in every sense and way possible. Alcantara’s actions and even his presence in Spain spoke magnitudes of this innovation. A history of struggle against colonialism, semi-colonialism and the culture it brings goes against us looking at ourselves through the Anglo Saxon lens as former US Senator Beveridge did.

I have no idea of the treatment Lionel Messi receives in his native Argentina but Alcantara is like many true heroes of the Philippines who are suppressed by the status quo but revived by counter-culture. In a sense I think he is the Filipino footballing equivalent of revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio, with the common aspiration of a man trying to break down a cage set up by an empire that calls him a monkey.

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The “Other” and the “Drug”: What Football can take from the SONA

With the onset of the largely empty State of the Nation Address President Aquino’s efforts to distance himself from the “negativism” of the people still cannot be ignored. Land reform, social service budget cuts, rampant demolitions and persistent political killings were also absent as well as a tangible national plan. The obvious side of the picture would be that the errors of this administration’s priorities continues, however in the larger political context, as Aquino widens the gap between him and Hacienda Luisita he also attempts to shift the attention of the nation towards the apparent victories over the wang-wang. This reminds me of Alain Badiou when he says that one of the biggest cultural triumphs of imperialism is the eradication of the word itself. If we don’t talk about it, it probably doesn’t exist. Similarly in Football, while just about everything is talked about, there has never been any clear attempt to distinguish football as a largely social phenomenon. Most of the time the subject of football is about a team’s tactics, a players’ form, rankings etc. While that is fine, in both politics and football, recognition of social conditions is unequivocally necessary.

Street Painting at the People's SONA protest, photo courtesy of Lori Navida

The Detachment and the Drug

This was a coward’s SONA basically, Aquino may bark a lot, defending his KKK , (Kaibigan, kaklase, Kabarilan/ friends, classmates, shooting buddies) but his bark ends when it counts. It counts only when it defends his administration, usually by not talking about it. His aimless focus on the smaller things points to the lack of significant achievement and the abundance of problems that are ruled by secrecy. In KABATAAN Party Rep. Mong Palatino’s blog article, Utak Wang-wang, Utak Haciendero, he tackles how the SONA’s utak wang-wang focal point was put in place for the utak haciendero that the regime clearly possesses in light of the country’s continued plight. All of this as the SONA repeatedly (as did last year) slam naysayers and critics simply for being critical. Palatino adds that this is ironic, considering his family were both a main proponent and beneficiary of this kind of political opposition during the Marcos dictatorship. It’s sort of unnerving to have a president and from Aquino’s family whilst not mentioning and favoring detaching itself while profiting from Luisita, even if it is one of the bleakest pictures of feudalism and landlordism in the Philippines.

Football has a similar train of thought, though not intentional and obviously does not bear the same consequences but in essence excludes the social issue from the self as does the SONA. In an entry from the Equaliser Football blog entitled “The Attraction of the Futile” it is discussed how football can turn into an escape. True enough I am one of those victims, yet at the same time what it also does is serve as a medium for the of entrapment of the most prominent facets of modern life, namely globalization or the expansion of global capital to monopolistic heights. There is a two line struggle between elevating the game (like other popular sports) to its rightful space within the bigger realities of society and keeping it an escape for convenience. Football can easily become a drug with an addiction that shuts out the world. The entry talks about how the injection of social connectedness into the sport is not only left out of mainstream media (for obvious reasons) even amongst supporters it is not a popular topic. I’m not sure this is the case in the Philippines to a wider extent but I have encountered sentiments of antagonism by the “invasion” of the sport by political discourse. The football community is not an isolated collective, but a result of the emerging sub-culture fumed by media, mainstream or not in all dimensions. The former was tackled in a previous entry.

Stephan Schrock, taken from http://tinyurl.com/3vm7hlw

Especially now when we are facing cases of alleged rape, while this may be all a hoax, I think we cannot be so quick to condemn the issue to a PR spectacle as was the case with the Subic rape case which was in reality manifested by our unfair dealings with the US military. Women’s rights, player’s rights and socially conscious support among others are not nuisances to the game but symptoms of putting football into a relevant area of society and not a pedestal. The personal is political is an often used quote, extending it to football the tactical is political. The entry of the Equaliser ends with “Enjoy football, even go as far as to love it, but don’t let it overwhelm the more significant realities of which it is a mere by-product.”

The “Other” Problem

Borrowing from Jean-Paul Sartre, the notion of the “other” is not only present in both cases but emits a “self-renewing” distinction. The other basically positions a subject who in order to be conscious of the self must be acknowledged by another. The SONA does the reverse of this perfectly, by not taking into account the more pertinent social issues such as the education budget (8 out of 10 HS graduates don’t make it into college) and land reform, he does not become the haciendero president, he effectively constructs himself as a wang-wang buster. This occurs even by dismissing his family’s history with political opposition by calling out the present opposition as counter-productive in his speech. There can be no Luisita if we do not talk about it. As opposed to the lies that we have been accustomed to from the Arroyo years, Aquino’s rhetoric is grounded on the omission of his identity, as has been the case even since the campaign period.

Football’s other is then the realities seemingly outside of the sport. Simply put, football, especially today’s football did not come from the sky, it’s a conglomerate of all the present social conditions. Sometimes it’s almost as if the orthodox footballing world/community exists outside the apparent unorthodox realities that allow it to endure. Why for example does Europe boast the best leagues, probably because of the money invested in the culture built around it. The debt crisis of many big teams is also indicative of how the competition is also an economic one as clubs vie for the best players coupled with the club owner’s profiteering. While all of these have been popularly documented, what has not been often said is that these incidents have their roots in the inequalities present throughout the world.

Mao Tse Tung, in his 5 Golden Rays, explicitly says that the root of subjective thinking is the separation of things . In this case the separation from the political turmoil and the tendency for separation from the conditions that are at play with the sport.

The Echoes Never Stop

Philippine football will face so many more issues outside of the rape scandal, they cannot all be dismissed as impediments to the game. This is part of the effect of a growing following, and I think the National Team must take a hold of the situation as I’m sure there is more to come. Corruption, in Philippine football has already been dealt with as we know it, but I’m doubtful that it’s the end of it.

I heard one fan say “do what you (azkals) want, but not when you wear the flag.” It’s not a national team based on skill alone as I have repeatedly said before, but based on what a nation should value, human rights and genuine democracy. I think this is what the Philippine Football indie film Happyland achieves, in the sense that football is also a product of domestic situations and project for cultural democratization. Enjoy the game, don’t be consumed by the game. The Azkals, likewise the fans should not make Aquino’s mistake with the SONA, though unlike the SONA, I am more hopeful for football.

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Happyland: Football and Poverty

A movie review of Jim Libiran’s Happyland

Jim Libiran’s Happyland depicts a group of teenagers from who discover football or Futkal (Football sa kalye/street) through the local youth center in the larger impoverished section of Tondo, Manila. Through Fr. Jose, head of the center hailing from an axis of the football world, Barcelona, football becomes an opportunity, something more than a past time building something “more than just a club.” Fr. Jose’s passion spawns from one of FC Barcelona’s favorite sons Paulino Alcantara who happens to be Filipino. Scoring 357 goals in 357 games, Alcantara shattered records and literally even the net at one point though was denied acclaim on the level of a national team since there was barely a Filipino National team to speak of then. Emerging from a poor background Alcantara’s achievements inspire the kids to play. Coming back to Tondo for the film, Libiran’s Happyland is an attempt to explain poverty and the basic rights that are withheld from this condition as well as the perception of what the impoverished “cannot” have, like football. It features real life Futkaleros and the initiators of the movement playing similar roles to their lives in relation to Futkal.

Larong Mayaman (rich man’s game)

As explained by Brother Pedro who teaches the kids how to play, Futkal may be played on the streets of their community but it is symbolic of bringing football to everyone as they eventually play against teams on the University of Makati grounds.  This is an important point which I think is present in the movie and should be present in our understanding of football as a metaphor for democratic rights. Football is for everyone, throughout the film it is depicted as “larong mayaman” with reluctance from the locals to appreciate it. How has this come to pass? With basic cable you can only watch the English Premiere League and not even all of the matches, and a few Champions League matches, never mind Asian football. I’m sorry I just don’t understand how channels can regularly play table tennis, equestrian sports among others while leaving out the most watched game on the planet. Before the Azkals you probably had to be Angelica and Derek and fly off to South Africa to watch the 2010 World Cup. Of course most glaring is the state of affairs in our domestic league which paradoxically has no money in it. This universality is congruent in how many people view certain privileges as forever being privileges or facets of life that will always be absent from theirs such as education, good health services, business, legal help and fare wage; subsequently football.

Take the power back

Throughout the film there is an ongoing contradiction between the rich and the poor. During games fans of the opposing team (seen as rich kids) would throw loose change on the field as an attempt to distract, insult and “prove” their superiority against the Tondo team who hardly had any shoes or proper uniform. Clad in shirts with numbers painted on them one opponent depicted as the “British team” would not even get off their bus in the Tondo home court, irrationally fearing a  literal beating from the locals.  These economic divisions are demonstrated in cultural animosity towards the poor in what is perceived to be “our” game. If Futkal is an attempt to promote access to football as a metaphor for life, conversely the mentality of many is still the status quo which may support the Azkals but still adheres to the obstacles of the norm.

The players experience real problems of the impoverished Filipino youth, team captain Ishmail is faced with an uncertain future in which he wants to be able to study in college, Ramil is forced into a life of crime, others are tied to providing for what little their families have; even attempting to prevent a cold in the family is a big obstacle for not having enough money to buy simple medicines. Drugs, crime, among others, what is common is the bleak understanding that they do not have a future, the opposing understanding of the status quo through football reinforces this. Football by no means solves their problems, football is no revolution. At some points though it may feel  that way, yet in the end the embrace of football merely teaches them of what can be theirs. Hard work may get you some cash but what man really needs is to challenge society and change what is taken from us, to me this was exemplified in Ramil quitting his life of snatching/ theft despite the additional financial burden it brings. What is his stealing compared to the condemnation of a society of the poor to a life of stealing?

Ultimately the undertaking of developing football, albeit just about anything in society is based on the masses as a motive force. Football does not change society but in Happyland it becomes a representation of taking what is right into the hands of the underdeveloped who in turn become pioneers, awakened the masses are a messiah.

Note: Today the Philippine Azkals have yet to play Mongolia in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, this may not be the semi-finals of the tournament but it resounds enormous importance in football’s continued existence in the country.  Phil Younghusband’s cameo in Happyland as a supporter of football’s development is a welcome yet cheesy addition to the film; however his real performance will be on the pitch. With it are the stakes of raising football to greater relevance locally as did Happyland.

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