If the Philippines can learn to move past this mindset, it can possibly unlock more opportunities for growth.
I’m writing this from Japan, while staring at a men’s volleyball poster in Tokyo Station. It’s for the 2022-2023 season of the Division 1 V-League, which has 10 teams from different provinces in Japan. It’s a thriving league that local players aspire towards, and where teams invest in foreign players and Olympic-level coaches.
Men’s volleyball is beloved in Japan, where their national team has consistently placed within the Top 10 of the World Cup for a while. Current team captain Yuki Ishikawa, has a wax figure in Madame Tussauds Tokyo. They have cool nicknames like Yuji Nishida, “Monster of the Vertical Jump.” The manga “Haikyuu!” which follows a high school boys’ volleyball team, has spawned an anime, compilation films, and stage play.
Filipino players Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo have both played for the V-League in the past. Yet, it’s worth noting that while the Philippines can produce world-class men’s volleyball talent, men’s volleyball doesn’t enjoy the same widespread support and investment at home. Why? Many players point to a belief in the Philippines that “basketball is for boys, volleyball is for girls.” That being a volleyball player makes one less of a man.
Many people take this connotation for granted: “Ganyan talaga.” But all it takes is looking at other countries, other contexts, to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. Sports doesn’t have to be seen as gendered; it can belong to everyone in equal measure.
Did you know that in Japan, basketball isn’t seen as “panlalaki” either? UAAP champion Mayu Goto, who used to play for the NU Lady Bulldogs, is half-Japanese and was raised in Japan. They have a popular pro league for women, and Japan is in the Top 10 of the FIBA Women’s World Rankings. It was easy to find basketball camps for girls in Japan; it was only when she moved to the Philippines that anyone told her “basketball is for boys.”
Maybe if the Philippines can learn to move past this, it can unlock more opportunities to grow men’s volleyball, women’s basketball, and other sports that challenge gender norms in the Philippines. Like weightlifting, where a young Hidilyn Diaz heard others say her muscular physique was “unladylike.” Like gymnastics, where Caloy Yulo won a world championship despite many believing it’s a “feminine” sport.
We could have better access to youth camps, more investment in varsity athletes and teams, more playing opportunities for collegiate players after graduation, and more brands and institutions willing to support them.
How many more world-class athletes can we develop by stepping outside boxes of “panlalaki” and “pambabae?” Wouldn’t you want to see?