Friday, March 14, 2014

The wonder of football

Friday, March 14, 2014 - The Malay Mail


WHENEVER there is a catastrophe, people of all races, colours and creeds immediately rally around the ones affected by it, doing whatever they can to help, even if it is just saying a silent prayer.

Just look at what has been happening since the MH370 mysteriously went missing on its flight to Beijing with 239 people on board.

Nations just came on board to assist in the search and rescue mission while many are praying that a miracle will happen.

While the human virtue of compassion stands out like a beacon in a tragedy, sports, especially football, plays an equally important role. The beautiful game has time and again brought hope and joy in times of disaster.

Take the recent Typhoon Yolanda, which wrecked the Tacloban province in the Philippines.

Tacloban is basically the heart of Philippine football (known as Azkals), because the team manager Dan Palami comes from there.

Palami (pic) has been the manager of the Philippine team since 2009 and has been credited with elevating its FIFA ranking from 194 in 2009 to 125 at present.

He is also instrumental in using football to bring hope, joy and normalcy to the young children of Tacloban. Take 17-yearold John Wayne Regis. Growing up, the lad had wanted to help his family by playing football, a sport his father had taught him at age six. But Yolanda struck and took away his home. His family was spared, but his father lost his job.

Fortunately, a twist of fate gave Regis hope. He is currently staying in Quezon City where he is home-schooled and plays for Global FC, which is managed by Palami, in the United Football League (UFL) in Manila, while his father is employed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Regis is one of the faces of Yolanda's survivors featured in the seven-minute documentary "The Football Wonder of Tacloban" by Swiss director Michael Steiner. Sponsored by UNDP, the film calls on football fans worldwide to help rebuild the Yolanda-hit region.

"I live in both worlds, back and forth between the Philippines and Switzerland," said Steiner after the documentary's Philippine launch last Thursday.

His wife Minerva hails from Tacloban and her family owns a school in the city. "We [he and the Swiss ambassador] discussed how to get attention that is sustainable using football. After all, there are millions of football fans out there," said Steiner, a self-professed football fan.

With the FIFA World Cup in June, Steiner hopes that the football connection to Tacloban can reach out to fans worldwide.

"We are hoping that these people can send the movie to each other over the Internet and see this side of football." This is the link to the documentary:

The seven-minute movie banks on football to put Tacloban in the spotlight with continued calls for donations. A one-minute trailer was aired during the 11th Match Against Poverty, and two-thirds of the proceeds set aside for Yolanda's survivors.

But recovery in the sports-loving Tacloban and other Yolandahit areas will take time.

Palami continues to play a role in rebuilding Tacloban and turns any empty pieces of land into playing fields for the children to play through the programme, which not only gives out food and hope, but also some joy through football.

The Philippines has expressed its deep appreciation to the UNDP, Fifa, the world’s football legends and thousands of people who supported the match against poverty in Berne, that was dedicated to the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

UNDP and its goodwill ambassadors — football legends Ronaldo and Zin├ędine Zidane — Fifa and the UEFA held the 11th Annual Football Match against Poverty at the Stade De Suisse National Stadium in Berne on March 4.

The proceeds from the match would go to UNDP projects for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, such as the ongoing cash-forwork projects and other projects supporting rehabilitation efforts.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that as at last Tuesday, it had received US$27 million — donations for Yolanda's victims.

In Malaysia, we are lucky that we have not faced a disaster of such magnitude before and should consider ourselves lucky and count our blessings.

Sportsmen and women in Malaysia should realise how lucky they are, where they are often spoon-fed to achieve excellence, but still fail to realise their true capabilities for lack ambition.

It is about time our athletes looked at athletes from other countries whose ambitions are hampered by so many obstacles and they have to overcome so many challenges to emerge the champions.

TONY MARIADASS has 35 years of experience in sports journalism and is passionate about Malaysian sports. He can be reached at Twitter handle: @tmariadass

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