In an historic upset the Philippine national rugby team, dubbed “the Volcanoes”, toppled regional powerhouse Thailand to bag the 2017 Asia Rugby Sevens championship held in Doha Qatar the past two weeks. The news for many Filipinos will not be the fact that a national team won a major sports tournament, but rather in finding out that the Philippines had a rugby team to begin with.
Such is the reality for the Philippine Volcanoes and Philippine rugby in general, not only does the sport exist in the country but it is also rather successful given the meager financial and moral support it is afforded by both the government and the people. As a result of their triumph in Doha, the Volcanoes have been rewarded with a sponsorship from Globe Telecommunications. Before the tournament however, financial support was scarce and sponsors were hard to come by which meant that the team were supported largely by private individuals.
Compare their fortunes to that of their competitors during the tournament final, the Thai national rugby team. Rugby has existed as a sport in Thailand since 1937 with the establishment of their national rugby union, the Philippine Rugby Football Union was only established in 1998. Rugby clubs are profound in Thailand, with over 50 different rugby clubs existing, which tells us that the sport is profitable and therefore enjoy a large following in their country. Given that Thailand has an active rugby club scene also tells us that their players have regular competitive experience, while the Volcanoes are comprised of players based overseas such as Australia and the United Kingdom making regular practice hard to come by.
Despite all the odds, the Volcanoes thrashed Thailand 41-7 in the finals. In the process of entering the ultimate match of the competition, the Philippines beat Nepal (67-0) and host country Qatar (26-5) during the group stage period. They progressed to the knockout stages dominating Iran (42-0) in the quarterfinals and edging past Singapore (12-10) in the semifinals. In the finals, not only did the Volcanoes triumph but they also gave the Thai rugby 7’s team it’s first taste of defeat as they were previously undefeated.
All their success were attributed to the skill and hardwork of the individual players since Philippine rugby does not have funding for extensive training regimens nor for high-value imports. Despite this tremendous accomplishment, the Volcanoes were afforded virtual zero recognition across the media. Compare this with the meteoric rise of the Philippine football team, dubbed ‘the Azkals’, after beating Vietnam 2010 – the players were revered as heroes and individually enjoyed celebrity status with many finding work in modelling and even starring in TV commercials. All that despite the fact that the team did not eventually win the tournament they took part in, the 2010 ASEAN Suzuki Cup.
That accomplishment by the Azkals is of course no easy streak, the team deserved the recognition they got. However, so did the Volcanoes and they actually won the tournament that was not just limited to ASEAN but one which spanned across the entire Asian continent. If the Azkals were appreciated, the Volcanoes should too. Global Telecom have taken the first step and pledged to boost the financial capabilities of the Volcanoes, other patriotic Philippine-based companies should follow their initiative.
Above all, the government should provide aid to the Volcanoes as well given that they have brought recognition to the country. Public rugby fields should be erected all across the country, allowances should be given to the players and funds be provided for training staff. The victory did put the Philippine Sports Commission on notice, it would be intriguing to see to what extent they would like to help.
What the Volcanoes achieved is more than a continental championship, more importantly they have shed light on the fact that the rugby scene in the country are capable of achieving big things despite having little support, fueled only by love for their country and their flag. It is time we reciprocate the love and show support for the Philippine national rugby team in all their future endeavors.