Marco Ortiz, a University of the Philippines (UP) Landscape Architecture graduate, did not plan on getting into floorball. When he was in college, Ortiz had a backlog of units, and had to take one more subject while he was working.
That semester, local floorball, which has its roots at the UP Diliman College of Human Kinnetics (UP-CHK), was being promoted to the students. Ortiz, a former ice hockey player, decided to give a try. “It turned out, I still have it in me that I wanted to play,” he tells ANCX. A few years later, he found out that he didn’t really need to take that one subject to be able to graduate in 2012. “It was meant to be: that I get involved in this sport.”
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Floorball is a growing sport that has earned the Philippines medals in the international arena. It was one of the earliest events at this year's Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). Ortiz, who is now the vice president for the Philippine Floorball Clubs Association (PFCA, the governing body for floorball in the country), hopes that more Filipinos would get into this intense, non-contact sport.
There are varying stories about the beginnings of floorball, a form of indoor hockey. Some stay it has been played in Canada since the 1960s, while there are Americans that claim they created the game. What is clear is that the International Floorball Federation (IFF), the governing body for floorball in the world, was founded only in 1986, in Sweden.
The game is played on a court that is usually 20 meters by 40 meters big. There are five players and one goal keeper per team in a given play. The aim is to shoot the ball in the goal to earn a point. The play lasts for 20 minutes per period, with three periods in one game.
To play, the players need to have a light stick (not more than 350 grams), a pair of gloves, and a plastic ball. The goal keepers are usually the only players wearing a mask.
It’s less dangerous than ice hockey, Ortiz says, and, again, it is considered a non-contact sport. Depending on the referee, even the floorball sticks shouldn’t hit other sticks. “If the referee is strict, itatawag niya na penalty lahat ’yan, but that would delay the game,” Ortiz says. With this kind of restriction, the game requires players to have proper control of their movements, and lots of stamina.
Floorball made its way to the Philippines around 2010, when religious leaders from Nordic countries thought it would be a helpful tool to spread the word of God. The Born Again Christians would invite the youth to play floorball, and after each game, there would be sharing sessions.
The current president of PFCA, Ralph Ramos, was one of the first people in the country to try floorball. Ramos, a UP professor, organized floorball games at the UP-CHK. A few years later, small communities from different cities started their own clubs. A church group called Athletes in Action also helped in raising awareness of the game.
Today, we have national men’s and women’s teams for floorball—20 men and 20 women in one line-up. In the recently held SEAG, both men’s and women’s teams won fourth place—against teams who have played the sport 20 years before it came to our shores.
But the road to this kind of success was not a smooth one. A few years ago, it was difficult to get any financial help for the sport, as it is with any other non-popular sport in the Philippines. The national team, however, were determined to get farther.
Ortiz says, “If we were gonna do this competitively, we would have to go out and really see our competition outside the country—outside of our comfort zone.”
They’ve been trying to make it to the SEA Games since 2015, when it was held in Singapore, but making the trip there proved to be too expensive for the people in-charge of budget. Fortunately, and by chance, the Philippine team was able to participate in the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia.
Two months before the competition, two out of the five countries who were supposed to participate in the floorball games pulled out. In the SEA Games rules, there must be at least four countries competing in the sport for it to become a medal sport. To solve the dilemma, Singapore and Thailand helped the Philippine team with their expenses, and they were able to make it to the competition.
The PH team did not win, but floorball had already started to slowly enter the consciousness of local sports enthusiasts.
The team was confident enough in its place in the sport that in July 2019, the Philippines hosted the Asia Oceana Floorball Confederation tournament in Biñan, Laguna, with the help of the local government units. The men’s team competed with seven other countries in the region, and, eventually, took home the bronze medal. It was their first international win for floorball.
Following this historic moment, in August 2019, the women’s team won the silver medal in the Singapore Floorball Open.
Their continuing success led to more support from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Philippine Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC). “Na-realize ng mga tao, puwede pala tayo magka-medal dito,” Ortiz recounts. They also get financial support from one of their coaches, Swedish Peter Erikson, who is married to a Filipina, and owns business process outsourcing companies in the county.
While floorboard players have already come this far, Ortiz admits the national team still has to provide for their own equipment and training. Our national team are composed of people from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Singapore, etc., who are either born in the Philippines, or are children of Filipinas or Filipinos. Ortiz says that one of their future plans is to get more players to train for the national team. They partner with schools, communities, and youth leaders, and lend them equipment to encourage them to join. “Kailangan natin ng experience ng players from outside,” Ortiz says. “But as much as possible, we want more players who are homegrown. We want to include the game in Physical Education classes, in Palarong Pambansa. Kahit demonstration sport lang. Hindi naman natin hinahabol na malaki agad.”
Ortiz is very optimistic but remains anchored in the realities of the local athletes. “We are getting there," he says. "We have taken medals before. Dati nagla-last tayo. Umakyat na ’yong world ranking natin. But it’s still a long way to go. It’s a long process.”
For more information on floorball, visit the Philippine Floorball Clubs Association Facebook page.