Marko Kasic is a Croatian who grew up in England. His earliest memories of the game were not always pleasant.
“We were schooled in England to believe that football could divide people” says Kasic, the director of Fundlife foundation. In England football definitely has a tribalistic feel, with bitter rivalries often spawning deep hatred between fans.
“But it was only when I came to the Philippines in 2011 that I realized that football can be used to unite different groups instead” added Kasic during Tuesday's press con at the Peninsula Manila.
2011 was also the first year of the Sama-Sama Cup. In 2014, it promises to be bigger and better, but with the same aim of bringing together different people from all walks of life who share in their love for the beautiful game.
From May 8 to 11, ten men's teams and six women's teams will converge in Boracay to compete in the Sama-Sama Games for 2014. There will be group stages followed by knockout stages. There is no formal age limit but Kasic says that teams are encouraged to field players aged 16 to 21.
The event is sponsored by DHL, Puma, and AirAsia. Air Asia is flying the players in while Puma is providing up to 160 kits for the teams. Geena Mijares was at the press conference to support the event along with Azkals coach Thomas Dooley.
“Through our support of the Sama-Sama Games we hope to empower and inspire our youth to pursue their dreams and strengthen the 'care and share' spirit among our employees” said DHL Express Philippines Country Manager Nurhayati Abdullah.
Last year's champs, Boracay FC, organized by Gene de la Cruz, will try to defend their crown against a variety of clubs from different backgrounds. Tondo Futkaleros, headed by Peter Amores, will attempt to improve on their runner-up finish from last year.
Futkaleros have been in existence now for eight years, and according to Amores, the group recently had a football outreach in typhoon-affected Bantayan, Cebu.
But in Boracay the surface will be not asphalt, but soft white sand. The tournament is accredited by the Beach Football Association of the Philippines headed by Mike Athab.
Beach soccer uses a smaller pitch than regular football, but a fairly large goal frame. Matches are usually split into three periods. Kasic says there will likely be three periods of ten minutes per match. Kasic says the matches will be five-a-side with open substitutions.
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“Beach football is perfect for the Sama Sama Games because it's not as aggressive as reglar football. There are no sliding tackles and its more technical.” Beach football is often characterized by spectacular bicycle kicks and other flying volleys.
In both mens and womens divisions there will be the Sama-Sama cup for the top teams in the group stage and the Barkada Cup for the lower-placed teams. Last year Boracay FC's B team triumphed in the Barkada Cup. This is the first year that there will be a ladies event and the FEU women are likely going to be a hot favorite.
As the name suggests, the event is meant to foster togetherness between disparate sectors of society. Among the teams participating are Gawad Kalinga's Mens and Womens teams, Tondo Futkaleros, a side from Dream Big Pilipinas, which brings the game to kids in disadvantaged communities.
One of the teams that many will be rooting for is the Tacloban Football Association side that is composed of players drawn from communities hammered by the recent typhoon Yolanda.
Equality is a big deal in the Sama Sama games, and Kasic has an interesting rule during the tournament: no one is allowed to use “sir” or “ma'am” when speaking to each other.
In the end, the tournament is all about togetherness and unity. During Tuesday's press con a well-known quote by former South African president Nelson Mandela was shown in a video.
“Sport has the power to change the world... it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.