HomeSportsFirst Philippines Women's World Cup team safe after NZ shooting

First Philippines Women’s World Cup team safe after NZ shooting

The largely Filipina American players of the first-ever Philippines soccer team to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup are safe after a shooting near their hotel in New Zealand yesterday, hours before they were due to play Switzerland.

According to a post by the team on Facebook, all members of the delegation—including players, coaches, staff and officials—have been accounted for after the shooting at a nearby construction site on the eve of the tournament. Three people died, including the perpetrator.

FIFA officials have said the World Cup will continue as planned. Norway’s team is also staying near where the shooting occurred.

As reported by Sports Inquirer, the gunman opened fire at the construction site around 7:20 a.m., moving through the building and firing at people there as police closed off the area. Police returned fire at the shooter, and he was found dead shortly after. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he took his own life or was killed by police.

Later that night, the Philippines lost their match against Switzerland 2-0.

The Philippines has never made it to the World Cup before with either the men’s team, nicknamed the Azkals, or the women’s team, the Malditas. The Malditas suffered for years from a lack of funding and professionalism, overshadowed by the Azkals and other sports, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Now, with the financial backing of Filipino businessman Jefferson Cheng, the input of Filipino American players and volunteers and the coaching of Australian Alen Stajcic, all of that seems to have changed for the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).

The current Philippines Women’s National Football Team is remarkable for more than just being the country’s first team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup: it’s composition is remarkable, too. Out of 23 players, all but five were born in America, and only one was born in the country they are playing for.

Even more incredibly, the team is largely the work of unpaid volunteers, according to Yahoo! Sports. One of them, Mark Mangune, is a telecom worker in Michigan who describes himself as having once been just a “random dude” posting on Philippines soccer-focused message boards, but he became the PFF’s volunteer “Liaison and Recruitment Officer” in 2012.

Mangune and others worked to create a “pipeline” for Filipina American soccer players to try out for their ancestral homeland’s national team. They would scour the United States for promising young soccer players and invite them to try out for the Philippines Women’s National Football Team, usually with a message over social media. Some women ignored the outreach, wary of of a scam. But others jumped at the opportunity.

Over the years—and working without a salary—the volunteers were able to reach around 800 women, some of whom are now in New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Butchie Impelido, an IT worker in the Chicago area by day and one of the unpaid architects of the team’s “pipeline” by night, told Yahoo! Sports, “I’m not aware of any official paid scout. It’s just on us, our love for football, and for the Philippines.”

Because the World Cup requires players to be citizens of the countries they represent, many Filipina American players had to scramble to be naturalized through their parents and grandparents. With the Philippines-born members of the team having dwindled to only the midfielder Anicka Castañeda, some of these players “feel kind of pushed aside,” long-time supporter Venice Furio told Yahoo! Sports.

For many of these diasporic players, however, playing for the Philippines is an opportunity to reconnect with their homeland. Sofia Harrison, one of the players currently in New Zealand for the World Cup, told Yahoo! Sports, “When I was younger, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be Pinay. And being able to play with the national team has allowed me to be more of myself and bring that out of me.”

Another player, Quinley Quezada, who grew up with a Mexican father and a Filipina mother, said, “I was more in tune with my Mexican side growing up… It wasn’t until I was involved with the national team where I really felt that connection with my Filipino side.”

In the long term, Impelido told Yahoo! Sports that the Philippines Football Federation (PFF) hopes these 23 players will inspire thousands of girls in the country to play soccer and that the funds, experience and ties to the United States the PFF has gained will support their growth into world-class players in the future.

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