Bernardo M. Villegas
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National Football League in 2017

           All football lovers in the Philippines should do their share in helping the Philippine Football Federation in its ambitious plan of launching a national football league in the Philippines some time in 2017, the earlier the better.  The success of this national league will greatly depend on how we can get the Philippine public to transfer part of the enthusiasm that they have traditionally lavished on basketball to this “beautiful game” which is the leading sport in practically all countries in the world except a few like the United States and the Philippines.  I may be biased but I think few will disagree that it is easier for the Philippines to reach world class status (say, qualifying for the World Cup in the next twenty years) than for our national basketball players to reach the top of the world in their sport.  Height is might in basketball while many of the best football players in the world like Maradona, Pele, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Neymar have the average height of Filipinos. 

          How can the various stakeholders of football in the Philippines help in the success of the football national league once it starts in 2017.  First, I would ask the existing football fans to involve more and more of their relatives and friends in following closely the matches of the AZKALS, the Philippine national team, in the ongoing qualifying round for the World Cup in its group.  There is no doubt that the relatively good performance of the AZKALS in the last five years has been a great help in the increasing popularity of football, especially among children as young as 6 years old.  It also helps that a good number of our “mestizo” players or “foreignoys” look like movie actors and have attracted a good number of female fans to their matches.  The AZKALS have already triumphed in the ongoing qualifier against Bahrain and Yemen, beating the former 2-1 and the latter 2-0.

     On September 8, the match against Uzbekistan will be held in the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bulacan.   Let us exceed the more than six thousand that witnessed the one against Bahrain.  Although the odds are against the AZKALS (Uzbekistan ranks 75th in the world vs. 124th of the Philippines) there is much that a hometown crowd can do to motivate our players to play at the top of the game by, in the words of Coach Dan Thomas Dooley, “the thunderous applause, encouraging shouts of fans and electric atmosphere in the stadium.”   In the ongoing qualifiers, the two best teams in the eight groupings will advance to the next round.  After Uzbekiztan, the AZKALS will meet North Korea, another strong team, having trounced Uzbekistan in their initial match.  The road to the World Cup in 2018 will be very difficult since only four teams in Asia will advance to the World Cup finals after the qualifiers.  That means that the AZKALS will have to overcome the road blocks of powerful teams like South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Middle East squads.  For those who know how to dream, however, anything is possible.

          It must be stressed, however, that reaching the World Cup finals is not the main objective of the National Football League.  There are enough cultural, social, moral and economic reasons for a country to have a flourishing football industry.  The playing of football, especially among children and the youth, is an effective means of fostering values and virtues that can contribute to very productive organizations and workforce.  Especially in the Philippines, cultural anthropologists have observed the lack of concern for the common good among vast segments of the citizenship.  The team spirit and solidarity that the right style of playing football can go a long way in bringing the “bayanihan” culture much beyond agricultural practices and the relocating of nipa huts.  Competition among regional clubs can simultaneously foster pride for one’s city or region and develop a healthy spirit of competition among the country’s regional groupings.  Last but not least is the contribution to economic growth that a national league can make in fostering domestic tourism; corporate sponsorship of the different clubs; the collateral businesses in consumer products like sportswear, T-shirts, etc.; television and other media rights in showing the matches; advertising; and gate receipts.  In Europe, these amount to billions of Euros annually.

          To attain these objectives, I suggest that LGU officials be proactive in helping the Philippine Football Federation to comply with minimum requirements for inclusion in the national league, such as football stadia with at least 5,000 seats and the required facilities for the comfort of the fans such as rest rooms, parking spaces, handicapped-friendly walkways, etc.  I am alerting especially such cities as Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Tacloban, Davao,  Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, General Santos City,  Dagupan, Laoag and a few others that are being considered by existing football clubs for tie-ups.  The mayors of these cities should consider following the example of Binan, Laguna that has recently constructed a regulation-sized football field, as reported by sports writer Bob Guerrero in Rappler,com.  The newest artificial grass football field is located in Barangay Zapote, Binan, very close to the Binan City Hall.  The field recently passed the FIFA 2 test conducted by Kiwa ISA Sport B.V., a Dutch FIFA-accredited testing institute.  A grandstand is being built beside the pitch.  There will be four dressing rooms so that in the event of a double-header, all four teams can enjoy some privacy.  The football facility was completely funded from the LGU coffers at an estimated cost of P320 million.  Complementing the facilities that can be put up by LGUs like Binan, Laguna will be real estate developers like Megaworld (that constructed the Emperador Football Field in McKinley), the Villar real estate group, Ayala Land and Walter Brown who are already in the process of building their own respective football fields.  I hope many other developers will follow.

            I hope that some of the leading football clubs in the United Football League and other leagues in the country are already eyeing a possible partnership with Binan, Laguna so that this municipality can be represented in the National Football League.  I know for a fact that Global FC, one of the strongest teams in the UFL, will be the Tacloban Football Club since its owner, the famous football entrepreneur Dan Palami, is from Tacloban.  It is easy to speculate that Ceres-La Salle will be the Bacolod Club or that Meralco-Loyola could adopt the Quezon City monicker.  The organizers of Manila Jeepney Club already confirmed that they are having ongoing talks with the city official of Manila.  It is highly likely that the National Capital Region will have at least four football clubs in the same way that Madrid has Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Getafe and Rayo Vallecano.  I am encouraging leading Philippine corporations to start considering which clubs they will sponsor.  In my short list of possible sponsors are the Villars, San Miguel Corporation, Metro Pacific, Alaska Corporation, Nestle, ICTS, the Aboitizes, LBC of the Aranetas, RAYOMAR of the Garcias, Ricky Dakay in Cebu, Pru-Life, United Laboratories, Nike, Adidas, and the Lhuilliers.  As the popularity of football spreads all over the Philippine regions and as our total population expands to over 150 million by 2050, one does not have to be a prophet of boom to forecast that the Philippine National Football League will be an effective channel for promoting all types of consumer-oriented goods and services.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.