MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Members of the Philippines women’s soccer team, which recently qualified for its first World Cup, have played down social media comments that most of the players with mixed American ancestry “were not Filipino enough.”
The Philippines beat Taiwan 4-3 in a penalty shootout last week after the match ended 1-1 in the Women’s Asian Cup hosted by India, a regional tournament that also served as Asia’s qualification for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The landmark victory added to soccer’s phenomenally growing attention in the basketball- and boxing-crazy former American colony, where young Filipinos often transform busy public roads into makeshift basketball courts and mimic Filipino and U.S. celebrity players.
Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, who retired from the sport last year after 26 years, used his stardom as a springboard to national politics. An incumbent senator, he is currently campaigning for the May 9 presidential elections.
After the victory in India, the still-ecstatic Filipina players and their Australian coach Alen Stajcic faced journalists in Manila to reflect on the historic win. An online video of the winning kick posted on Twitter has gone viral with 168,000 views, 5,700 likes and more than a thousand retweets.
Then the questions turned to the online criticism, which cast a cloud on the American heritage of many of the players in the Philippine team.
“We’re all Filipino, there’s no such thing as we’re not Filipino enough,” online news site Philstar.com quoted U.S.-based Kiara Fontanilla as telling a news conference in Manila. “I think people that are saying that are wrong. We’re here to make a difference.”
Olivia McDaniel, whose penalty shootout kick against Taiwan gave the Filipinos their first World Cup berth, said the questions hurt her and stressed the Filipino American players were certain of their identity as Filipinos.
“Some people haven’t been really accepting . . . but I think when you’re Filipino, you’re Filipino,” McDaniel said.
Stajcic said the criticisms upset him, having witnessed the hard work, passion and sacrifices of the players.
“How can you doubt?” he asked. “How can you doubt how much Filipino they are?”
The Philippines women’s team plans to compete in the Southeast Asian Games, the AFF Women’s Championship and the Asian Games as part of its 18-month preparation for the World Cup.