QUEZON CITY, Philippines – The Philippines’ girls Street Child World Cup soccer team Thursday prepared to return home after its 2-0 defeat to England the day before in Moscow in the third place playoff, bringing the players’ SCWC run to an end.
While the team would have hoped to conclude their trip to Russia on a winning note, their results and performances at the tournament in Moscow have made the team managers, their supporters and well-wishers back home immensely proud.
“Our SCWC run may end here, but we couldn’t be prouder of the performance given by all 9 of our players,” according to a statement on the team’s Facebook page after its defeat to England.
Their journey to Russia was the culmination of years of work for head coach Ronalyn, who four years prior, at the second edition of the SCWC, had yet to swap her cleats for a clipboard.
She scored the crucial goal against Mozambique in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup to help her team qualify for the final, which they would lose to hosts Brazil.
Despite the defeats, their performance and journey to the showcase tournaments are a source of inspiration to young Filipinos looking to escape urban poverty in their homeland.
Ronalyn grew up near Payatas, one of the largest dumpsites and poorest areas of the Philippine capital of Manila, spending her childhood days scavenging for plastic in order to help her family, who ran a junk shop to make ends meet.
On one of her scavenger hunts, she stumbled upon a football clinic held by the Fairplay For All Foundation, a non-governmental organization working in the communities of Payatas.
“Honestly, I joined the football clinic because I heard that there was free food after training. I didn’t even know back then if I liked football since all I saw was basketball and volleyball,” Ronalyn told epa.
She is now on a varsity scholarship entering the University of Santo Tomas, one of the Philippines’ best colleges, studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education. She says she owes her new-found opportunities to football and the foundation.
“Because of football, I was able to receive education, and because of the Fairplay foundation I was able to travel and meet other kids from around the world who had the same background as me. My experience has become my inspiration to succeed in life.”
Rose Ann, Ronalyn’s younger sister, was curious when she saw her sister take up football, which despite its recent growth in popularity, remains a niche sport in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation, trailing the more popular basketball, boxing and badminton.
“Football? I thought basketball was the only sport in the Philippines, and when I saw girls playing, I was surprised because I thought back then that all sports were for boys only,” Rose Ann told epa.
She would later join her sister at the football clinics, and was part of the nine-girl team competing and representing their nation in Russia.
“I’m excited and nervous going to Russia, it will be my first time riding an airplane,” she said before heading to Moscow.
Despite her love of football, Rose Ann dreams of someday becoming a lawyer. “The poor people need someone who can understand and help them; coming from the poor has become my inspiration to become a lawyer.”
Rose Ann’s determination to overcome her impoverished background, and to help others do the same, has much to do with the lessons and opportunities provided by the Fairplay For All Foundation, which was founded by British nationals Roy Moore and Naomi Tomlinson.
The foundation tries to help children in Payatas beat the cycle of poverty, providing them with a safe environment, education, exercise and opportunities to dream big.
At first Fairplay was focused only on football, but the foundation has grown over the years, developing a school of its own, registering with the Alternative Learning System – an informal education system in the Philippines – and opening a cafe and sports center.
Moore coached the Philippines’ Street Child World Cup team in 2014 and is now its manager, having passed on coaching duties to his former player Ronalyn.
After finishing second in 2014, Moore tempered the girls’ hopes ahead of the tournament in Russia.
“Winning shouldn’t be the expectation; first enjoy what you’re doing and learn from the experience; how it can make you better so when you come back, you can change things within their community,” he told epa.
In addition to football training, Moore led seminars at the training camp on topics such as addiction, child trauma and stress.
Following their defeat to Brazil in the semifinal, Moore praised the girls’ efforts and progress over the course of the Fairplay training camp.
“Since Day 1, the girls have become friends and supported each other. We’re proud of the effort they’ve given and while you can get unlucky with a result, we are very happy with their attitudes and how they’ve grown. We look forward to returning to the Philippines and continuing this work,” Moore told epa.
“We set out in this project to prove that when we show we care, everybody wins. That when we care for these kids and do things in the right way, they are capable of so much more than many people thought possible,” he added.
The Street Child World Cup is held every four years prior to the FIFA World Cup. It began in 2010 in South Africa, bringing together teams of street children across the continents to raise awareness, remove stigmas associated with them and provide them with opportunities they have been denied.