By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas
Given the uphill struggle of the Philippines Football League to become financially viable and to attract wider participation from its stakeholders, especially the spectators, we should celebrate every successful move forward. Last May 17, 2018, the Philippines got a very welcome upgrade from rank 113 to 111 in the FIFA world football ranking. According to Atty. Gastanes, the good performances of the leading clubs (Ceres, Kaya, and Global) were important accomplishments that explain part of this upgrade. Ceres-Negros is currently in the ASEAN Zonal Finals.
Another major feat was the historic qualification of the national team (the Azkals) in next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. This is the first time that our national team will be competing with such Asian football giants as Japan, South Korea, and China. The AFC tournament will be held in January 2019. In a draw held last May 4 at the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Azkals were grouped with Korea Republic, China PR, and Kyrgyz Republic. Our national team will make its Asian Cup debut against Korea Republic on January 7, 2019, at the Rashid Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai before facing China on January 11 at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Kyrgyz Republic will be the last opponent on January 16 at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai. Again, I enjoin all OFW football fans and their friends in the Middle East to be in the stadia to support our players. Those of us who are in the Philippines should at least follow the matches live on the appropriate TV channels whether ABS-CBN Sports, Fox Sports, or beIN.
PFF President Mariano V. Araneta Jr. (himself a national football player in his youth) has reasons to exult at this development. In an article by Michael Angelo Murillo that appeared in BusinessWorld (May 9, 2018), Mr. Araneta was quoted as saying: “We dreamt that one day we will have a team in the AFC Asian Cup, and now it has become a reality. We are thrilled that the Philippine men’s national team will be participating in Asia’s most prestigious tournament for the very first time…. The group of Korea Republic, China PR, and Kyrgyz Republic will be a challenging task for the team, but as we have witnessed every time the players take it to the field, our players will fight hard.”
Not to be outdone, the Malditas (the women’s national football team) placed third in Group A of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018, held in Jordan April 6-20, 2018. They almost qualified for 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Girls’ youth national teams had been runners-up in ASEAN Football Federation regional championships for 2014 and 2017, as well as the AFC regional championship for 2016 (with Thailand obtaining first place). Since we have been laggards in the past in this most popular sport in the world, every little accomplishment should be celebrated!
As in any long-term strategic planning process, we the stakeholders of the Philippine football industry should take stock of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
In a major conference on “The Business of Football” organized by MMC Sportz Asia last May 18, 2018, in Makati, Atty. Ed Gastanes, general secretary of the PFF, summarized the state of football in the Philippines. From a 2014-15 consumer study of football in the country, over 30% of respondents from Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao were interested in sports in general. However, only 5% of total respondents followed live matches, bought merchandise, or actually played football.
The PFF also relaunched its grassroots program in 2012. From 2012 to 2017, total grassroots players numbered 76,000. Festivals of Football were held during this period in Benguet, Camarines Norte, Dipolog, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, NCR, Negros Occidental, and North Cotabato. In 2017, the new targeted areas were Aurora, Cagayan de Oro, Laoag, Panay, Samar, and Zamboanga City. Possible new frontiers in the near future will be Basilan, Cagayan Province, Palawan, Pagadian City, Quezon Province, Sulu, and Zambales. Together with the private sector, youth tournaments will be organized in tandem with UAAP, NCAA, PalarongPambansa, regional football associations’ tournaments, and private tournaments (e.g., Aboitiz Cup Cebu, Alaska Cup, Allianz Youth Futsal Invitational/Liga Eskwela, NCRFRA, Weekend Futbol League, and Youth Football League).
A key resource in a team sport is the number of qualified coaches. In 2017, football experienced an increasing number of coaches: AFC Pro Diploma (3 coaches); AFC A-level (45); B-level (110); C-level (596). There are now more than 1,000 with national coaching certificates (compared with 60,000 nationally certified coaches in Japan). In 2017, there were 10 AFC coaching certificate courses held while 11 are planned for 2018. As regards referees, there are currently 4 FIFA referees, 6 FIFA assistant referees, and 2 FIFA futsal referees. Only FIFA, AFC, or the PFF can assign these FIFA-listed referees. Their going fee is US$200 per day.
In line with its commitment to further develop the sport of football, the PFF launched in 2017 the “MyPFF” Football Registration Program. This move is the next step to build on the gains football has made in the last ten years while also assuring that the football community in the Philippines is helped to move forward. The program hopes to register the estimated 1.5 million football participants who are not limited to players, coaches, referees and officials. Given this football registry, the federation will have the necessary data to develop a long-term strategy for all activities, starting from the grassroots and upwards. Applicants are required to upload a copy of their passports or copies of their birth certificates. Then they make payment via Dragonpay, which allows for cash deposits or the use of a credit card online. All players, coaches, referees, and football officials were required to register for them to be able to participate in various PFF-sanctioned activities such as leagues, tournaments, festivals, etc., beginning in 2018. The annual membership fees start from as low as R100 for grassroots players up to R2,000 for professional players. Each member will receive a personalized membership card. My PFF was developed in partnership with software developer RSportz and the marketing arm MMC Sportz Asia.
In “The Business of Football — Philippines” conference last May 18, Domeka Garamendi, head of MA Services of the Asian Football Confederation, highlighted the importance of nurturing professional football in the Philippines. Professional football has the objectives of raising the level of domestic play, increasing the fan base, and keeping the skills of the national team sharp with frequent and constant matches. Professional football is at the summit of the pyramid for professional player development, while the other pathway is the pyramid for recreational football and health lifestyle development. Pro football encourages NGOs, media, sponsors and fans to create partnerships for social programs. The example he gave was the Buriram United, one of the strongest teams in Thailand, that tied up with their local government unit (LGU) to conduct health awareness programs in their locality.
In the Philippines, there are two LGUs that can be role models for others who want to have active football programs in their localities. The first one is Bacolod City in Western Visayas that sports writer Cedelf P. Tupas described as the “epicenter of football” in the Philippines. Bacolod is the home city of Ceres-Negros FC, the reigning champion in the Philippines Football League. Ricky Yanson, president of the Negros Occidental Football Association, attributed the popularity of football in the city and province to the strong support of the provincial and city governments. As far back as 1998, the local government built the best football stadium in the country, the Panaad Stadium, in time for the province’s hosting of the Centennial Palarong Pambansa. It has been the venue of some very important AFC Cup matches. Recently, Ceres hosted a pair of top Southeast Asian clubs —WW Tampines Rovers of Singapore and Felda United of Malaysia — in the AFC Cup. In Luzon, a role model that should be emulated by other Philippine LGUs is Biñan, Laguna, that recently built from its own local resources a modern football stadium that is now the home of Stallion Laguna FC, one of the six clubs competing in the Philippines Football League. I advise governors and mayors all over the Philippines to study closely the experiences of Bacolod and Binan to learn a few practical lessons on how to develop “football mania” among their constituencies. Among the first steps is to build a football stadium that can accommodate at least 5,000 spectators. LGUs can approach some foreign governments to use part of their official development assistance (ODA) to help build sports stadia in their respective localities. Alternatively, they can partner with private real estate companies like Megaword, Vista Land, and Ayala Land to build these facilities under the Public-Private Partnership scheme allowed by the Local Government Code.
(To be continued).