Page last updated at 11:38 Asia/Manila, Friday, 08 May 2015 PH
My friends know me as a super-optimistic person. That is why I have acquired the monicker “Prophet of Boom” in some business circles. I know, however, how to manage my expectations concerning my favorite sport, football and its allied futsal. When I was informed by President Nonong Araneta of the Philippine Football Federation that the Philippine national team, the Azcals, will be in the World Cup Qualifying draw for Asia starting June 11, 2015, I already told myself not to expect much this time around. The Azcals are no match for the teams of the best-ranked eight teams: Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, China and Iraq. Not to mention other strong Asian teams like those of Vietnam, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain (who beat us just a few weeks ago), Syria, Kuwait and Qatar. In fact, recently the Philippines fell 11 spots to No. 139 in the latest International Football Federation rankings. In Asia, it dropped three places down to 18th. I would be happy if by the time I reach 87 years (my late mother lived up to 102), God willing, in 2026, the Philippines would be ranked among the top ten in Asia. Never mind if we still do not qualify for the World Cup by then.
Actually, as famous football coach Juan Cutillas told me more than once, to be in the World Cup is an impossible dream for the Philippines in the foreseeable future. That did not discourage me from passionately campaigning for the promotion of football as a national sport that can compete with basketball. That is why I did not hesitate to accept the offer of Nonong Araneta to be the Chair of a task force that is preparing for the launch of the Philippine National Football League sometime early in 2017. I consider football much more than a sport. It is a vehicle for character formation of the youth and for fostering unity among various regional, cultural and religious groups in the Philippines. Sometimes like a Don Quijote, I think that football one day can be more successful in uniting the various Muslim tribes in Mindanao with one another and with their non-Muslim brothers than any Bangsa Moro Law we can concoct. Having lived in Spain for several years, I have witnessed how the separatist Basques and Catalans can forget their differences from the rest of the nation every time there is an important match in the Spanish League. In fact, I usually pull the leg of my Catalan friends by reminding them that if they secede from Spain, they have to give up the most profitable and celebrated football match in the world, the El Clasico, which is every football match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the best football clubs in the world. It is also noteworthy that the protagonists in the finals of the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) on May 30, 2015 are FC Barcelona (Catalan) and Athletic de Bilbao (Basque)!
The idea of using football as a means of uniting the Muslim tribes in Mindanao is not farfetched. Already, as reported by Rick Olivares of the Manila Standard, the Philippine Marine Corps and One Meralco Foundation are co-sponsoring the Football for Peace which stemmed from an initiative of Lt. Col. Stephan Cabanlet. Last April 14, 2015 children coming from families who have relatives in the MNLF, MILF and even Abu Sayyaf were flown by an Armed Forces plane to Manila to participate in the Football for Peace Festival at the Philippine Marine Corps Headquarters Football Field in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig Rizal. The Festival was held last April 18. It is a small step to getting the Muslim youth from different tribes to realize that that they can engage in friendly football matches with one another even as their elders still settle their differences through armed struggle. Football can be a part of the long-term solution to the peace and order problem in Mindanao which is education, education and education.
I have been likewise very much encouraged by the enthusiasm with which different private groups have been responding to the call of the PFF to develop football at the grassroots. Take, for example, an initiative of The Henry V. Moran Foundation in partnership with the PFF. The program aims to kick-start and develop a sustainable futsal (indoor football) or street football program for public school children age 13 years and below. Liga Eskwela is intended to be a whole-person youth development program complete with skills training, nutrition assistance, and values formation. The Liga Eskwela is being launched on Saturday, May 16, 2015 together with the 2015 Ambassadors’ Cup at the University of Asia and the Pacific on Ortigas Center, Pasig, Metro Manila. The event will feature public school children and street football communities playing for teams adopted by various foreign embassies, and it will be a showcase of how futsal and street football are played. Principals of public schools are invited. Those interested may contact Kevin Goco (09178158337) or email email@example.com.
Then there is the program “Pru Life for a Better Life 2015” sponsored by the insurance firm PruLife UK. It is a nationwide program that aims to encourage young people not only to pick up football as a sport but also to use it as a means for self-improvement towards living better lives. The program is spearheaded by former Philippine Azcals member and current Green Archers United player Chieffy Caligdong, who is also an assistant coach for the Under-16 national team. There will be a series of football clinics and tournaments in 10 key areas around the country, starting with Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo last March 2015. According to Mr. Caligdong, ‘the thrust of the program is to provide opportunities for a better future for kids through football. The message is ‘Anything is possible.’ You can be successful in life with the right mind-set and disposition: (Business World, March 6-7, 2015). Assisting Mr. Caligdong in the program is coach Chris Thomas from the United Kingdom. After Iloilo, the program will go to Pampanga, Negros Occidental, Capiz City, Dumaguete City, Baguio City, Palawan, Davao del Norte, Legaspi City and the National Capital Region. Some of these cities may qualify in the future to host the regional clubs that will compete in the Philippine Football National League.
Another exciting prospect is the program being proposed by former Senator President Edgardo Angara to the Department of Education. To speed up the propagation of football among the nation’s youth, Mr. Angara has proposed the incorporation of the sport into the curriculum of all the public elementary schools. Since there is a growing number of children who are attracted to “the beautiful game” when they are as young as five or six years old, introducing the sport into the elementary schools will be a most effective means to producing a cadre of talented players who can then be fed into the many private initiatives like the “Liga Eskwela” or the “Pru Life Football for a Better Life”. There are many others like the ones of the Roxas Foundation in Batangas, Ricky Dakay in Cebu, Ceres Foundation in Bacolod, etc. Over the last five years, football has attracted much more attention in the Philippines than in the last fifty years. Although I may accept the opinion of Juan Cutillas (that the Philippines may not qualify for the World Cup in my lifetime), I am optimistic about the great contribution that football can make to the character education of the millennials and to the unity among the Philippine regions through the Philippine National Football League that I and the members of the Task Force of the PFF will make sure will start in January 2017. More of this in future columns. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.