Thursday, February 21, 2019 | ePaper
Hoops-mad Philippines finally catches case of World Cup fever
Shirts are selling briskly, crowds pack sports bars to watch matches and football is front-page news. Whisper it quietly, but basketball-crazy Philippines has finally been afflicted by World Cup fever.
For decades, the nation of more than 100 million was on a very short list of global locations that had failed to fall for the beautiful game.
That is beginning to change as football's narrow, but passionate, Filipino following grows fuelled by success of the national team whose new coach is former England great Terry Butcher - a World Cup semi-finalist with the Three Lions in 1990.
"Definitely, we do haveâ€¦ World Cup fever," television sportscaster Bob Guerrero told AFP outside a Manila bar where he was watching France knock Argentina out of the global tournament.
"We're hoping that it's going to be a snowball effect and football will really start to grow here in the Philippines," said Guerrero, who works for top TV network ABS-CBN who are airing World Cup matches live.
Grow it may, but at the moment there are only an estimated 1.5 million football-playing Filipinos compared to figures claiming that some 40 million regularly flock to the basketball courts that populate every barangay (borough) across the archipelago.
It's a love affair that goes back to the 1900s when basketball was introduced to the archipelago by the Americans. Rather than reject the pastime of their colonial masters, Filipinos made it their own.