As if the Philippines had distanced itself from the outside festivity, making this island nation a shelter from the pandemonium that is driving the rest of the world crazy, the nearly month-long FIFA World Cup could have been the season we’ve been buzzing around, at least, acquainting ourselves, even on the surface level, the grandeur and drama, the enormity, and the display of talent that is beyond our little comprehension of the Beautiful Game.
Football’s centerpiece tournament, hosted by oil-rich and the controversial Middle East power Qatar, could have been the show that will ignite newfound wisdom, an eye-opener that will tickle our senses, perhaps a delight for the handful of Filipino fans, that we have our very own players, our lady warriors, who will be basking in the same amount of glory in a few months time and will be needing the support and attention as they wave the flag in the biggest of stages —because they have earned it and we have to be towing that pride ever so loudly come July 2023.
Instead, football die-hards, some occasional followers, who would love to see Argentina’s Lionel Messi play possibly his final dance, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo in his fine form despite a public spat with his former club, or Neymar and the fancied Brazil take on the world’s best like title holder France, were deprived of easy access to watch the matches. If you can shell out ₱2,000 for a tournament pass on cable television or online streaming platforms then you’re ready to binge-watch the games from Doha which is five hours early of Manila’s time.
If you are a big spender with a few bucks to spare for a wine or beer, then you can have the option to tuck yourself in a sports bar or a fancy pub that cater prices inclusive of consumable food and a spot on the viewing party.
Heck, for those with a tight budget and only the web to scour on, there are sites that live-stream matches for free but with great risk since FIFA only authorizes legitimate pay-per-view channels and licenses to partners. Of course, broadcast rights cost millions to acquire.
For a poor Filipino pundit, access to games could come in a form of premium purchase. Who would want to blame these giant networks for not offering the World Cup on free TV? Football isn’t as big as basketball, or as enticing to the viewing public here in the country. The World Cup doesn’t have a Jordan Clarkson, or a Manny Pacquiao. Ask a casual follower, and he could only name three players, and I bet those are Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar.
But we have a competitive women’s team, the Filipinas, who are exceedingly talented and bound to carry the nation to the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year in Australia. The same scale of a tournament, the grandest of them all. Offering the glimpse of the Qatar showpiece to the masses could have been a great platform to trigger massive interest, a rallying point from now on up until the first whistle, that on the same stage, this tiny nation will be represented.
Yet again, as the world roars, we are silent. The World Cup fever failed to reach our shores.
(Ramon Rafael C. Bonilla is the head of Sports section of Manila Bulletin.)