MANILA, Philippines – I first met current Homeless World Cup Team Philippines head coach Rudy del Rosario at the soccer field in Fort Bonifacio back in 1998.
I was trying out for the Kaya Futbol Club, the sports club he co-founded in 1996, and I was amazed by his expertise in handling the black and white soccer ball.
But more than that, there were 3 things that he really impressed me with the most.
The first is his attitude towards the game.
Second is his dedication to helping others by teaching everything he knew about “the beautiful game.”
And last is his belief that “a ball can change a person’s life.”
We became teammates and coaching partners in that football club from then until 2011.
And his attitude and the principles he lives by in playing the sport remain to be the standards upheld by his aspiring athletes.
Commitment and determination
Last year, I was asked to join the selection panel for the final try-outs of Team Philippines for the 2011 Paris Homeless World Cup.
Like 14 years ago, I was once again impressed with the commitment, determination, competitiveness and devotion that the newly-recruited players had in them.
These athletes – coming from different parts of the country – had made it to the final day in Manila; and from their eyes alone, you knew that it would mean everything to them to be part of the final team.
You could see that they were set on making their dreams come true and their lives better. You believe that they believe that, in fact, “a ball can change a person’s life.”
Homeless but not hopeless
Being true to its name, the Homeless World Cup allows each country to define what homelessness means.
For example, European nations send players from rehabilitation institutions or refugees seeking political asylum.
For the Philippines, we get our players from very poor communities, or from established orphan institutions.
In 2008, the Philippines was represented for the first in time in that year’s Homeless World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. We had a delegation composed of 5 boys and two girls, all of them from Tuloy sa Don Bosco and DSWD Nayon ng Kabataan, both orphan institutions.
We placed 37th out of 56 nations in the world ranking that year. In 2009, we were able to send an all-male 8-player team to Milan, Italy. We finished 29th overall in 2009.
In 2010, Rudy del Rosario became the team’s head coach and had secured a partnership with Cebu Pacific. This was a big turning point in selecting the players since it gave an opportunity to recruit athletes from all over the country.
The final team consisted of players from poor communities – 3 from Negros Occidental, and 5 from Luzon.
That year, “Pinoy Big Brother” was able to raise a big chunk of the budget to send the boys to Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil, Team Philippines won 8 of their 11 matches, took home the Host Cup (4th trophy), and finished 25th overall in the world rankings.
In 2011, we sent a delegation whose membership was half from Luzon, and half from Visayas.
While the team won only 4 of their 13 matches, they finished 24th overall – the first time the Philippine team made it to the top half of the competition.
According to the organizers, studies show the participation of 70% of players in this annual event have made a positive change in their lives.
I got a chance to talk to one of the boys from the Rio delegation in 2010, Tonie Mark Arinal from Negros Occidental.
Back then, at 23 years old, he was working at a beer house and wasn’t enrolled in school.
He had a bandaged head when he appeared before the panelists for the final try-outs, saying he bumped his head by accident.
But when Coach Onie Patulin dug up more information from him, he discovered that he got hit with a lead pipe from a gang fight. The damage in his head could have cost him his life.
Today, Tonie works for Messy Bessy Cleaners, and is currently a freshman at the Manila Business College, where he is taking up entrepreneurship and wants to start up a small business one day to give his family a brighter future.
He also scored the winning goal in the Host Cup finals against Norway.
When I asked him how it felt to play internationally for the Philippines, he said, “Masarap pakiramdam dahil dati barangay lang, ngayon represent ko Pilipinas. Ang pagkanta ng national anthem, naluha ako nang kinanta ang ‘Lupang Hinirang.’”
(“It feels great because before, I only played for the small town leagues, and now, I represent the Philippines. I was teary-eyed when we sang the national anthem.”)
Being part of the homeless team was the turning point of his life, he said. Without a doubt, he claimed that if it weren’t for the team, he would still be involved in alcohol, drugs, and gang brawls.
“Sa kulungan ang abot ko sigurado, kung di ako napasok sa Homeless World Cup team (If I didn’t get in the Homeless World Cup team, I would have ended up in prison),” he said.
Like Tonie, other members of the Homeless World Cup also made something more out of their lives after their participation in the tournament.
Despite poverty and the insufficiency, or lack, of education, they are making the most out of their situations to improve their current conditions.
Lexter Maravilla of Lucban, Quezon, who was part of the Rio 2010 team, played for Kaya FC 2011 UFL season and now with champions Global FC. He is also coaching the grassroots program.
Abdula and Hamid Passion of Pagsanjan, Laguna were part of the Rio 2010 team. Both played for the Kaya Futbol Club in the 2nd season of the United Football League.
The brothers started their own soccer program in their province, teaching more than 40 players from their community. They were co-coaches for Laguna in the recently concluded Palarong Pambansa.
Also from Rio, Revect Lagarto of Leveriza, Manila played for the Kaya Futbol Club and is currently enrolled as a varsity scholar in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, where he is taking up a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education.
Their stories show how the Homeless World Cup can transform lives. For the past few weeks, coach Rudy has been going all over the country looking for new talents to be discovered.
He’s looking for athletes to represent the Philippines in Mexico 2012, and make their dreams come true.
Help them out
In recent years, we’ve seen football rise up the ranks of popularity in our country.
Nowadays, we see endorsements by football players, media exposure and features for football games, and big corporate sponsors for football clubs.
We see a growing number of fields to play in. We now even have a televised football league that has their games broadcast live.
But there is much more that these football organizations and federations need to fulfill – starting with these players of the Homeless World Cup.
The boys are still struggling with their dream to make it to Mexico this October and are raising resources and funds. The Homeless World Cup team has proven to themselves they are worth much more by believing in themselves.
Through football, the coaches and players have seen alternative ways in transforming abject conditions. They will need all the help they can get. – Rappler.com
Mikee Carrion is a former Kaya Futbol Club (FC) player from 1998-2008, Kaya FC coach 2008-2011, assistant coach of upcoming Jeepney FC, and a Real Madrid ULTRASSUR. Follow him on Twitter: @mikeecarrion