Bea, Russel, Lolo Romy, and the World Cup

(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Dec. 3 edition)

Seventeen years ago, I told my brother that I was going to miss the birthday of his daughter, Bea, as I was on three-week assignment in Bacolod for the Southeast Asian Games. I remember telling myself then that one day, when I get a column, this will be one good material. Well, this is now.

WORLD CUP DEBUT. Bea with friends and cousins on the night she turned 18, the same night Iran shocked Wales with two very, very late goals.

The word “debut” is one of the favorites of sportswriters and I’ve used it many times as it’s an easy angle to pursue—just check how many World Cup debuts are being written. But this will be the first time that I’m going to use it in a sports article by its original meaning, a woman’s coming-of-age 18th birthday.

However, this story wouldn’t be here because of the debut, nor would it be here because of my brother, even if his record of scoring a goal in 30 seconds still stands in our province. This story is about a promise to a cherished Lolo, family commitment, and of course, the Qatar World Cup.

Most football fans I know would gladly sell their arm and a leg to have a job that would take them to Qatar but a couple of months ago, Russel D’Souza, the guy in charge of logistics for Adidas in Qatar, did what for some is unthinkable. He told his boss that he was going to miss the World Cup.

If you’ve seen those giant Adidas balls in the fan zones, Russel is in charge of making sure that, and a host of other things, are in place, one of the many jobs behind the scenes that makes the World Cup an unforgettable experience. One of his challenges was making sure 20,000 Argentina jerseys would be available for fans who want to purchase them. It may sound easy, but try coordinating with factories in Southeast Asia, moving companies, and customs in Qatar. You get the drift.

Russel, who played in the age group for one of India’s biggest clubs and the Indian junior team, has spent countless days staying up late here in Cebu to make sure things are OK in the Qatar fan zones. And those familiar with the setup know the challenges of remote work. Multiply that with an event such as the World Cup, the world’s biggest sporting event.

Why is he here though? Like me, Bea is his niece, being married to the sister of Bea’s mom. But unlike me, he knows the promise. Of how two years ago, when Ninong Romy, Bea’s Lolo, was facing a health problem and was encouraged to fight on so he could be present for his first apo’s debut.

“It will be in Shangri-La,” the family jokingly told him to which Ninong Romy gave his trademark line, “Ako ang bahala.”

Sadly, Ninong Romy passed away some 18 months before Bea’s debut but his sons and daughters, and sons and daughters-in-law made sure that Bea’s debut would happen in Cebu.

“Sila ang bahala.”

So on the 25th of November, while Iran shocked Wales with late goals (this is after all, a sports column) I watched Bea have the time of her life with sister Chloe, loving parents Mark and Lani, cool cousin Cahrlon John, and other relatives and friends.

Later, I asked Russel why he skipped Qatar.

“Family is family. I can always watch the World Cup on TV.”

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