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Manila Cheers Loudest: Filipinos Embrace Japan and USA at VNL 2024

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No Philippines at the VNL? No worries. Filipino volleyball fans in Manila still came out in full force to support the VNL 2024 held at the Mall of Asia Arena, but among the many highlights of the tournament, the overwhelming support for Team Japan and Team U.S.A. stood out. Filipinos’ deep appreciation for Japan’s national volleyball team is well documented in previous VNL legs held in Manila, but many were surprised when Filipinos showed equal love for Team U.S.A. even though it was their first time to appear in the VNL in the Philippines

On Sunday, June 23, head counts at the gate passed 12,400—the highest recorded attendance of the week. And for the first time since Manila had been hosting the VNL, the crowd was split: People were cheering for Ryujin Niippon and Team U.S.A. Historically, Filipinos have rooted for Japan at the VNL ever since the country started hosting the tournament in 2022. 

Japan’s popularity is largely attributed to the volleyball triumvirate Yuki-Yuji-Ran: Yuki Ishikawa, Yuji Nishida, and Ran Takahashi. Although Ran and Yuji were missing from the court due to injuries, fans nevertheless erupted in cheer when Japan’s lineup. Opposite hitter Kento Miyaura credited their victories to their Filipino fans. 

VNL Yuki Ishikawa
Yuki Ishikawa of Japan Men’s Volleyball Team during their match against France. Photo: VNL

Miracle at the VNL

In the 19 times Japan had met U.S.A. in FIBV tournaments, they had never won a single match. That drought ended in Manila on June 23, with Japan buffed by intense cheering from the Filipino crowd. 

“It was tough to score, and sometimes there were difficult moments, but I tried to find a solution. I made many mistakes with my spikes, but I’m happy we won this game,” Miyaura told reporters after their match against Team U.S.A. 

“Filipino fans push us to our limit many times, and they love volleyball, so they make us feel comfortable even though we’re not on home court,” added Miyaura. 

In the 2023 VNL, Filipinos were overwhelmingly for Japan, and the arena looked like the home court of Ryujin Nippon. But the opening day of the VNL in 2023, which featured Japan, drew 6,000 people, much smaller than the turnout in 2024 every time Japan plays. 

But this year, the Americans also cast their magic on the people. 

Crowd darlings from Team U.S.A. include Japanese-American libero, Erik Shoji and setter Micah Christenson, who also drew some of the loudest cheers from the crowd on Sunday. The enthusiastic support for Team U.S.A. was a pleasant surprise, highlighting the Filipinos’ love for the sport and their ability to embrace new teams and players. There was even a 76-year-old grandpa who dragged his son to the VNL to watch Team U.S.A. play

Team USA at the VNL 2024
Team U.S.A. at the VNL 2024

As we profiled the crowd during the weekend,  we saw diverse groups of people who came to support various teams. There was a group of Iranians who kept chanting their country’s name. There were also a lot of Japanese supporters in the crowd, who not only wore their team’s red color, but also brought Japanese flags. But regardless of who are playing on the floor, there were surely Filipinos cheering for them. 

The VNL 2024 proved volleyball is more than just a sport in the Philippines but a source of joy for the people.

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