Tag Archives: Philippines

Owning the National Team: Monopolies and Football

Ahead of the next stage of the World Cup Qualifiers, I think it’s important to take note of how the powers that be have been affecting their popularity and what it means for the regime and of course for Filipino football. Everyday the regime’s influence is greatly felt in the political scene, taking off from a thunderous campaign President Aquino felt the love from sister Kris and her network ABS CBN as well as from a host of stars that gave their support. Now we see how government is unravelling as a network of different kaibigan, kaklase and kabarilan (friends, classmates, shooting buddies) and even how the shape of the cabinet is filled with liberal party supporters who can do no wrong. De Quiros noted that from Rico Puno’s bribery to the corruption and subsequent Aquino defence of DOTC’s Virginia Torres and Mar Roxas’ induction into the department, not to sound like an Arroyo supporter whose lies are the only thing they have going but this has all been evident from the start. Besides the KKK, the regime is also being singled out for the Kamaganak Inc, being that in truth the government is even more dominated by Aquino’s relatives than that of the Arroyo regime. Case in point is Butch and Julia Abad, budget and PMS secretaries respectively. Though, for me what is more pressing is not the composition of officials but mainly how they have failed to deliver on the “change we need” and in fact delivered the opposite comparable or arguably worse than the lost Arroyo years.

Which brings us to football, and our first point regarding Media, before the Panaad game against Mongolia, ABS-CBN had already purchased the rights to air the game exclusively. Immediately it cannot be denied that it is a good deal seeing as how the game should be televised. However, taking a look at how the relations of the Philippine National Team has developed with the network brings into question the entanglement of the money, power and influence that ABS CBN has with the KKK and Kamaganak Inc. In short it’s as if ABSCBN has become a new government agency or network vastly more powerful than the official NBN and it has Kris Aquino at the helm as a media secretary of sorts.

ABIAS CBN: State Propaganda Revisited

It has already been apparent for a while now that ABS CBN is a network that has devoted a large amount of airtime to being Aquino stalwarts. Kris Aquino as the de facto first lady has organized her troops well and the good history with owners the Lopez family does help. Though more than the aspect of economic power it was Kris Aquino and her troops who really spread the word and influence for her brother. Overall the bias is not as clear as Fox News for example but the combination of “unregistered” state support and the sensationalism that mainstream media does so well is what puts Kris Aquino in the perfect position of money and misguided patriotism.

Granted that for the game the Azkals needed the money, who gets state funding nowadays anyway? Granted also that televising the game is a big step in appealing to a wider audience in how the game is essentially for a wide audience in the first place. But exclusive? So exclusive that smaller media institutions are snubbed into getting the latest and more important Azkals news? Some reporters in Cebu experienced a blackout of sorts from the Azkals recreation visit before training, even after the Cebuano audience has always been faithful to the sport their local media was banned from reporting on the visit. However Sports Unlimited had the scoop. Former anchor and now Press Secretary Ricky Carandang for example lets ABS CBN always get the first and latest from Malacanang though with football the network had to pay for it.

with Randy Santiago

ABS CBN has discovered a way to monopolize a piece of news, ala imperialism, and with the hype Filipino Football is getting, with the kind of political and economic power being already established the network is milking the center of Filipino football for all it’s worth. Moreover this does not end with media coverage.

“I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse”

The rising valuation placed on the Azkals as a team similar to how players in Europe have their wages sky rocket as their form gets better, though at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist Kamaganak Inc and KKK has extended itself beyond media economic gains into the commercialization of the sport. Current Philippine Sports Commission Chairman is a former San Miguel executive and has personally been very keen over the current renovation of the Rizal Memorial Stadium that is also being headed by San Miguel and is also of course largely a Cojuangco company. Even sports is kept in the family.

I am not saying that the RMS should not be renovated but amidst all of this the emerging pattern is all too familiar from the Mafia tactics of the Arroyo family, and that a lot of the criticism that the Aquino regime is facing has its annexes in the business of sports as of late. It’s a state monopoly in the truest sense of the word franchising into sport.

Win to Survive

While all agree that for Football to get the attention and facilities etc it deserves it needs money so no surprise that the ruling family (not only in government) is involved somehow. In Europe for example numerous networks always air different football games, I assume the consensus is that the treatment of football the commodity is too big and too isolating for one network to handle. Many of us have tried numerous networks in our efforts to live stream from different sites linked to different networks and kept on switching just to get the right reception. A national team needs to be nationally available regardless of any business deal.

Mainly, all of this is to illustrate that despite the positive injection of football the mainstream media has driven into popular culture it is still a symptom of the treatment of government like a business by subsequently merging itself with media. We must be critical of how this treatment will affect the sport. Of course this will entail additional hype to the sport but ultimately it reaches a point when the companies and officials are the actual beneficiaries of football teams. European club owners have the bad habit of spending on teams to the point of indebtedness, an issue amplified if a team is not doing well on the pitch. What happens when the Azkals start losing? Former National Team keeper Vic Sison was part of the team that beat Japan in the late 50s, a significant achievement especially in today’s standards. He recalls that when the team started losing media forgot about them, sponsors especially the Chinese ones pulled out and to pay for the trip for international matches even became a burden. This was before Dan Palami, but even Dan Palami is not financially as omnipotent as the ruling family.

Before the game against Sri Lanka, everyone has hope, the excitement needs to be continuously affirmed. Let’s hope that a win against Sri Lanka among others, leads to the team being strong enough to be independent from exclusive media ownership. No national team can be owned.

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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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