After two long years, the DLSU Green Booters will finally be back in action. Although football was initially excluded from this season’s sporting events, the UAAP Board of Trustees surprised the Philippine sports scene as they announced the launch of “bubble football” in their press conference held last March 23. The tournament is the league’s biggest modification as an effort to gradually reopen more outdoor events after the pandemic-induced hiatus.
In the setup, all players will be enclosed in a plastic bubble or hamsterball, similar to what is used for amusement parks, swimming pools, and beach resorts.
After ending their Season 81 run in second place and after Season 82’s cancelation, the Green Booters are motivated to bag a title in the Men’s Bubble Football tournament. “We aim to win the championship talaga. That’s our main goal right now,” says captain John Rey Lagura. “With or without the bubble, we will do our best.”
Since the announcement, the team has modified their conditioning to align with the necessary adjustments their bodies need. With this game plan and the team’s talented roster, the Green Booters are more than ready to dominate the field.
World’s strongest ball
Although the news seems sudden for football fans, much preparation was made prior to the launch of the new setup. “The UAAP Board, together with the head coaches of all participating universities, sat down and carefully reviewed the suggested plan to hold the sporting event during this still difficult time. Base doon sa requirements set by IATF-EID, we felt that the addition of the bubble enclosure is the best way to move forward,” UAAP President Emmanuel Calanog discloses.
(Based on the requirements set by IATF-EID…)
To ensure that each game continues to adhere to current rules and regulations, the league partnered with Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) technical consultants alongside Philippines-based FIFA International referees. Current FIFA rules are set to be modified to fit the needs of the new setup. The success of this run will also determine the future of a possible Women’s Bubble Football tournament. “Kung magiging maayos ang pilot implementation, we might see women’s bubble football in the coming seasons,” Calanog commented.
(If the pilot implementation goes as planned…)
According to the recently established UAAP Bubble Football Committee, all players—including referees—will be placed inside a bubble to maintain their health and safety. Reckitt Benckiser, manufacturer of the condom brand Durex, has agreed to supply the committee with specially made bubbles. The bubbles are made with high-quality, lightweight latex that is durable enough to withstand high impact. The manufacturer claims that these bubbles are even stronger than the material of airbags. Additionally, each suit will be equipped with High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters—ensuring the minimized spread of harmful airborne particles such as that of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for COVID-19.
“I like it very much. Apart from it augmenting my perceived personal space, I feel safer inside the bubble,” expresses rookie midfielder Wax Buyco.
This unique concept is driven by new safety modifications tailored to fit football’s general rules. “While the players will continue playing traditional football on the field, the added bubble suit requires us to set down new rules to ensure the safety of all athletes,” Calanog remarks. For instance, a red card may be awarded to a player who bounces more than two feet off the ground or if a player “violently” bounces off another in the playing field. Aside from this, the goalposts have been increased to accommodate the size taken up by the players.
Playing it safe
While the new protocols are a novel addition to the sport, athletes and coaches have quickly found their rhythm on the field. “We knew that, one way or another, there had to be some sort of physical barrier like the face shields that would give our players extra protection,” head coach Hans-Peter Smit shares.
In preparation for the tournament next season, participating UAAP teams have gotten the chance to practice with the bubble prototype, garnering mixed reactions from the players. Some athletes express anxiety over the needed adjustments to effectively move around the field, especially since football requires intensity for over 90 minutes. However, others consider the bubble a welcome change. “My greatest fear right now is that I would spread my legs too wide when kicking the ball or bump into another player, fall down, and end up rolling around the field in the middle of the game,” Lagura confesses.
On the other hand, “It’s actually pretty helpful when blocking the ball, because it’s easier for the ball to bounce off the bubble,” quips co-captain Jovan Marafiga. “We just need to find an alternative to chest traps, but with practice, I think we can nail it naman.”
Despite the varied responses, the new setup has achieved its essential function. Players now feel “a lot safer” with the eccentric protocol, claiming that it has boosted their morale. “Since we’re the first country in the world to be doing this, syempre it gives us a sense of pride din despite our kaba, so we want to really perform well and show the other countries what we can achieve with this innovation,” Marafiga stresses.
(Of course it still gives us a sense of pride despite our nervousness.)
Although the squad is set to kick off the season with a different way of playing the game, this does not hinder them from reaching their goal. Having experienced the highs and lows of the past couple of years, the Green Booters are ready to leave it all out on the field and redeem themselves of the upsets from the past.
Their long hiatus might have played a part in the struggle to get their groove back, but this has only inspired them to build on a brighter future ahead. “With the Durex bubbles, we’re gonna get [the championship],” Lagura voices out. The DLSU men’s football team will make their bubble debut on April 9, Saturday, against the last season’s champions, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, commencing their long journey to grabbing the gold once again.