By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Sports diplomacy to foster intercountry links

Posted on April 11, 2017

IN 2016, New Zealand and the Philippines celebrated 50 years of good diplomatic relations with a series of activities that included sports events, seeing how such is a good platform to bring people together. And taking cue from it, the two countries recently engaged in another session of sports diplomacy with a couple of rugby matches.

The Philippine Volcanoes and the New Zealand Navy Rugby Team pose for photo, with Ambassador David Strachan, before their seven matches in the country last week. -- New Zealand Embassy Manila
Coinciding with the docking at the Port of Manila of the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Kaha from April 4 to 7, the New Zealand Embassy in the country set up for its Navy rugby team to play the Philippine national rugby team, or the “Volcanoes,” in a pair of sevens matches at the International School of Manila in Taguig City.

The games, which the Volcanoes won each time with scores of 20-5 and 15-5, are part of continuing efforts to strengthen sports diplomacy between New Zealand and the Philippines, officials said, as well as promote the sport of rugby, which is slowly but surely gaining ground among Filipinos.

“I chose rugby because it is our national sport. It has gained ground here in the Philippines with some of the people from New Zealand associated with the Volcanoes, which has been doing well. Rugby has a good future here,” said New Zealand Ambassador David Strachan in an interview with BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the matches between the Volcanoes and the New Zealand Navy Rugby Team last week.

“Rugby is a huge part of New Zealand culture. We are delighted to see how much rugby has grown in the Philippines,” he added.

Last year, during the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament held here and where the Tall Blacks competed, New Zealand hosted an open training session with children from an Aeta community.

During the session, members of the Tall Blacks shared their basketball skills and knowledge with the children, which officials said was a “great opportunity” for the two countries to further cultivate their links, and the primary reason behind the recent rugby matches.

“I truly believe that sports diplomacy is an effective way to reach out to countries. People-to-people contact makes a huge difference in countries’ relations with others. You get to know the people more and they do the same with us,” Mr. Strachan said.

Recognizing how effective sports diplomacy is as a platform, the New Zealand ambassador said they would continue to chart such path.

“As much as possible we would continue venturing in that (sports diplomacy) direction. We would like to see more of these in the future and look for other sports as well that both New Zealand and the Philippines can appreciate and enjoy,” he added.

Meanwhile, on the part of the Volcanoes, the recent matches with the New Zealand rugby team were also a chance to prepare for their upcoming participation at the Southeast Asia 7s (SEA 7s) tournament later this week.

Sanctioned by World Rugby, the SEA 7s will feature on the men’s side two Singapore teams, Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, the defending champion.

“New Zealand is number one in rugby in the nation. This (sevens matches) is a good way to prepare for the SEA 7s that will see the Philippines compete against Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,” said Philippine Rugby Football Union (PRFU) President Matt Cullen in a separate interview with a group of writers.

“The Volcanoes have come a long way and to have a New Zealand team play them should help them develop their skills, particularly the young guys in the team,” Mr. Cullen added.

The PRFU head also said that they in the organization are encouraged with the way rugby has been progressing in the country and that they are looking forward to its continued development.

“It has grown a lot throughout the years. From two clubs registered back in 2007, we now have 22 clubs covering mostly capital cities and with clubs having their own grassroots programs. Now the Volcanoes are competing at a top level and showing that they can compete with the best of them,” Mr. Cullen said.

“Hopefully more Filipinos pick rugby up as a sport. It’s a game for all shapes and sizes and develops one’s character, championing values like integrity, respect, teamwork and passion,” he added.