Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #129 The New World Borders

The New World Borders
by rick olivares

There are 35 Fil-foreigners currently playing in the Philippine Basketball Association. And that’s not even counting others who have obvious foreign ancestry yet are practically homegrown. As much as they have improved the local game and strengthened many a national team, I’ve always said that their proliferation and our national leaders’ predisposition towards “foreign goods” has stunted grassroots development and sent wrong signals to Filipinos everywhere.

And now there’s Sam Ekwe in whom San Beda College has found the solution to a previously 28-year title drought. The 6’8” Nigerian’s impact in the Red Lions’ fortunes has sent other programs scrambling for their own African imports. How many other schools have them now? There’s Far Eastern University, National University, and Jose Rizal University. The State U is said to have one in their stable!

Technically, there’s nothing wrong because no rules are being violated. Each collegiate league has its own rules on eligibility and as long as nothing is breached then it’s all good. NU Bulldogs’ Head Coach Manny Dandan spoke about his school’s stand on the issue: “We aren’t the most attractive destination for blue chip recruits so having a foreign student who can play for us is an equalizer. Or as they say it in San Beda, ‘Ekwe-lizer.’”

The JRU Heavy Bombers’ bench master Ariel Vanguardia offered his take on the foreigners, “Personally, I don’t like it, but until there are rules in place then there’s nothing wrong with it. But one thing is for sure, it will make everyone a better player.

As for the increase of Fil-foreigners and the appointment of foreign coaches, my stand changed in the wake of the recently concluded Beijing Olympics and Euro 2008. The whole world has adapted and I believe that it’s high time we did too.

I see nothing wrong with the appointment of Serbian Rahjko Toroman as head coach or program director of the men’s basketball national team. For quite some time even with supposedly our best coaches at the helm of our national squads, we haven’t made much of a dent in international basketball. It’s time to change all that. If Filipinos can go abroad and take jobs from other nationalities, what is wrong with them doing the same over here? As long as we still field Filipinos or even, ahem… Fil-foreigners, then I’m fine with that. The transfer of technology and knowledge can only benefit us. Under his tutelage, Iran made a quantum leap in the FIBA standings; an achievement previously inconceivable when you think that Iranians aren’t the most athletic sorts.

Take a gander at the English national football team. For the country that invented football, they only have the 1966 World Cup title to crow about. And that was ages ago and the world and the game has greatly changed since. Under Steve McClaren, the English failed miserably and so a search for a new coach was conducted. It was a list that included distinguished gaffers such as Martin O’Neill, Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, and a few others. O’Neill is an Irishman while Ferguson is Scottish. Take some time to let that sink in. If you don’t know the history between the two countries and England then I suggest you look it up. Mourinho is Portuguese but eventually, the English Football Association settled on Italian Fabio Capello who won as a player and as a coach in almost every stop of his (AS Roma, AC Milan, Juventus, and Real Madrid). Under Capello, England is undefeated in their World Cup Qualifiers and are close to clinching a berth in the South Africa World Cup Finals in 2010. When asked on where he will side should England and Italy collide in the World Cup, the square jawed coach said, “Right now, Fabio Capello is wearing the jersey of England.”

Globalization has taken a whole new meaning with the constant migration of peoples to and fro. There are a lot of countries now that claim to be melting pots with the new synergies further enriching the cultures and diversity is the face of the 21st century man.

Portugal’s greatest footballer ever isn’t Luis Figo or even Cristiano Ronaldo. It is the man who simply goes by the name Eusebio. Born in Lourenco Marques in Mozambique, Eusebio who scored 380 goals in 343 matches most of them with Benefica said, “I was born in Africa in a country that was one of the Portuguese colonies at that time but Portugal is where my daughters were born and where I learned and grew up as a man and as a professional footballer. I do not make much distinction between the two (on whether he is Mozambican or Portuguese). That is a political question and I am not a politician.”

The Portuguese men’s football team was coached by Luis Felipe Scolari. A Brazilian. Ponder that point as well. Portugal from 2003 up to the just concluded Euro 2008 was coached by a man from a colony of theirs.

The French national men’s football team is perhaps the finest example of this new world diversity. Players can trace their ethnic lines from countries like Algeria, Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Congo, India, and Senegal to name a few.

Several years ago when Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski joined the German national team, my office mate who is Polish-American, threw his hands up in the air in abject protest and blurted out, “Potępiać ów Niemcy. Są przejęcie nasz kraj znowu!

The danger lies in exploiting naturalization. FIFA has made moves to prevent countries from importing mercenaries. Croatia’s best footballer isn’t Luka Modric but Eduardo who is from Brasil. And come on, if Becky Hammon is Russian then I am the long-lost son of Roman Abramovich.

Can we actually say that the Ron Jacobs-mentored Northern Consolidated Cement team that won three international titles with Dennis Still, Jeff Moore, and Chip Engelland was ahead of its time? Maybe so. So if there’s Sam Ekwe who can be naturalized so he can play for the national team and even in the pros then why not? As for the Fil-Ams, they’re okay provided a strong grassroots program is given a lot of priority and support.

Knowing all the politicians, the old guard, and the narrow-minded, they’ll botch it up like always.

Let the winds of change blow where they may.

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