World Cup to UAAP
I’ve told the story many times over about how, until I became UP Diliman chancellor in 2014, I was your typical nerd who knew virtually nothing about sports.
I have to admit it wasn’t just ignorance, but even a degree of aversion to sports. I had lived in the States and never figured out American football, much less how people could spend time watching the game.
So, in 2014, this clueless nerd realized I had to manage several varsity teams that needed to be revived, including the men’s basketball team. Fortunately, a group of alumni also saw the need to resuscitate the teams and formed a support group Nowhere to Go But Up, playing on the fact that we were at the bottom of the heap in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
I left the financial support to the alumni supporters who “assigned” me with other responsibilities: being there at the games, dropping in during practice, talking with coaches, checking on the athletes’ schedules and academic performance, and yes, delivering pep talks at the fundraising events.
In the process, I found myself enjoying the games and appreciating how sports can bring out the best in people and the human spirit: perseverance and hard work, as well as skills around strategies and tactics and developing the courage to make split-second decisions. Top all that with a team spirit that infects and inspires the entire institution, an entire sports league.
This year has been special with enjoying all that in sports, in part because for two years, most sports activities had been suspended because of COVID. When the teams began to play again, it was with a vengeance, especially with UP, given that we had come so close to, but missed, winning the men’s basketball championship in 2019.
We finally clinched the elusive championship in May, our first since 1986. A 36-year drought, the sportswriters crowed. I cried when we won, seeing how everything finally came into place, the Fighting Maroons themselves having discovered the strength of fighting as a team, among the team players, with supporters, with UP, with the entire country.
Still glowing with the victory, we realized we had a chance to win the championship again in 2022 because UAAP was crunching two seasons into the year. We began a new season in September, leading to the basketball championships this month.
The final games coincided with the World Cup in Qatar, which I found myself following as well. The social scientist in me loved the side stories, for example, Japanese fans astounding the world when journalists described how they would clean up after each game, leaving no garbage in the stadium.
I was delighted, many times over, watching Moroccan player Sofiane Boufal dancing in the stadium with his mother, wearing her kaftan.
And of course, holding my breath as Argentina leaped toward the final championship game against France. I learned about Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappé, read about how in Argentina, several hundred women organized themselves into a remote cheering squad of brujas or witches, performing rituals to remove what they said were bad vibes around Messi.
I woke up early Monday morning to the news of Argentina’s World Cup victory, their first since 1986, just like our Fighting Maroons. I switched on cable TV to watch replays of the highlights of the game, truly electrifying as was the elation that followed, in Qatar, in Argentina, in the world.
Then I braced myself for the day ahead with the UAAP basketball championship. The UAAP game isn’t until 6 p.m. and my press deadline is at noon so I can’t declare a victory, but I can quote from a text I got from Nowhere to Go But UP (note, no longer “up” but UP), announcing a “watch party” at Quezon Hall in UP Diliman: “Manalo, matalo, we celebrate the team and the community. Isang bonfire o group hug, depende sa resulta.”
That’s the spirit, best if we’re the champion, but win or lose, it’s the team and the community that matters. That’s why sports is indeed a hallmark of our humanity.
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