Bernardo M. Villegas
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Accelerating the Popularity of Football (Part 2)

          As the whole world awaits with anticipation the 2018 World Cup for Football, to be played in Moscow starting June 14, 2018, the Philippines will have a busy year in this sport that is slowly attracting more attention, especially among the Filipino youth.  The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is budgeting some P167 million for projects and programs for 2018 when the men and women’s national teams will be participating in important international tournaments, as reported by sports writer Cedelf Tupas.  PFF President Mariano “Nonong” Araneta is aiming to raise additional funding of some P32 million to supplement what PFF will receive from FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation and the ASEAN Football Federation. A large portion of the budget will be going to the technical department, which focuses on training at all levels, i.e. grassroots, age-group teams and the national teams. Expected to give a big boost to the training activities is the construction of a new football center inside the San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite.  A part of the budget will be needed to help the national team, the Azkals, to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.  The Azkals will also see action in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018.  Some P15 million will be allotted to the Women’s team, the Malditas, who are scheduled to vie for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Jordan in April 2018.

         Equally important in accelerating the popularity of football in the Philippines will be the traditional business enterprises who have been very supportive of the sport in the past.  We expect Alaska Milk Corporation to continue supporting the Alaska Cup which gives numerous Filipino youth in different age groups the chance to compete in an annual tournament.  There are laudable initiatives of other corporations like Coca-Cola, Nestle, the Aboitiz group, Metro Pacific, Adidas, Nike, LBC, and a few others who include in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs the promotion of football among the youth, especially from the disadvantaged groups.   Also expected to sustain their efforts to spread the playing of football among the masses are NGOs like the Henry Moran Foundation, the Gawad Kalinga Foundation, and the Roxas Foundation who team up with public schools, parishes and other local communities in initiating the youth in the playing of football, not only for its inherent athletic benefits but also for the values formation that can be readily incorporated in the playing of the sport, values that contribute to national development, such as team spirit, discipline, perseverance, humility and precision.

         Let me give special mention to what the Henry Moran Foundation and the Gawad Kalinga Foundation are doing to help children mostly from the lower income groups to learn how to play football in cooperation with public schools in the National Capital Region.  By partnering with some 600 public elementary schools in Metro Manila, these two foundations are providing coaches and playing materials, such as uniforms, shoes and balls to enable public school pupils to learn how to play the game.  Because of the scarcity of football pitches, futsal is the sport that is played.  This “Liga Eskwela” program culminates in an annual tournament among the teams coming from the schools.  A recent innovation is to synergize with the Ambassadors’ Cup, an initiative of some foreign ambassadors to the Philippines to use football as a means of helping children in depressed communities in the Metro Manila area to spend their leisure time in a productive and character-building way.  Started by some Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) about five years ago, more ambassadors from other countries have joined the program.  The culminating tournament has been held in the modern futsal court of the University of Asia and the Pacific.  Through this article, I wish to address other foreign ambassadors whose countries have a tradition of playing football to join the Ambassadors’ Cup so that their respective embassies can also make a contribution to Filipino youth development among the lower-income groups.  Foreign embassies interested may contact me through the email address below.

         A very positive development in promoting interest in world class football among the Filipinos is the commendable decision of ABS-CBN to partner with Thailand-based holding company Triple CH to bring three of the biggest football leagues in the world to free TV in the Philippines through ABS-CBN Sports+Action.  This partnership will bring the English Premier League (now being led by Manchester City), La Liga (now with FC Barcelona with a very wide margin over perennial rival Real Madrid) and the UEFA Champions League to Filipino fans who will be able to watch selected matches live.  As a football fan myself, I was very happy, for example, to have been able to view live the last El Clasico (the much watched match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid) at a very reasonable hour (8 p.m.) last December 23.   In the past, to watch these games from the Spanish League, I used to wake up at 3 a.m.  It seems that the Spanish League and other European leagues are waking up to the fact that the biggest consumer markets in the world will be in Asia in the coming decades.  That is why they are exerting every effort to schedule their matches at hours that are not ungodly for Asian viewers to watch live.

    The opportunity to view the games of the best football clubs in the world—such as those of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern, Paris St. Germaine—will go a long way in educating Filipinos about the attractions of watching football.  They will learn that the beauty of football is not in the number of goals that are scored in a game (like in basketball) but in the skills displayed by the players, even if a match ends up scoreless.  They will learn to watch football as they enjoy entertaining dances given the opportunity to behold the Messis, Cristiano Ronaldos, Neymars, Iniestas, Raphael Varanes, Christian Eriksens, Tony Krooses and Zlatan Ibrahimovics of the world execute a flying kick, a header, a pirouette, or a timely assist.  I am sure that as more and more Filipino children learn the intricacies of football, they will be more knowledgeable than their parents and grandparents who can enjoy a game only if the goals are made every few seconds!

            I also hope that some of our local TV channels will make it possible for the public to watch the games of the World Cup in Moscow from June 14 to 28, 2018.  Filipinos should be able to watch football at its best.  I also encourage restaurants, bars and other public places to make available these games to their clients by subscribing to the appropriate channels like Bein or Fox Sports.  The excitement of watching the best national teams in the world compete in this tournament held every four years will help to accelerate the popularity of football in our country.  Since I am an inveterate forecaster, let me add to the fun by making some fearless predictions.  I am betting that the top four contenders for the championship are Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and Germany.  For sentimental reasons (I have lived for some years in this former colonial master of ours), I would add Spain as a dark horse (as long as its team is not expelled from the World Cup because of the interference the Spanish Government in the affairs of the Spanish football federation). After all, Andres Iniesta is still playing for Spain in the World Cup.  It was he who scored the winning goal that earned for Spain the 2010 World Cup against the Netherlands (whose team together with Italy’s are uncharacteristically absent this year). For the information of the readers, the other national teams that have qualified are those of Russia (automatic because it is the host), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay, Morocco, Iran, France, Peru, Australia, Denmark, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia, Mexico, Sweden, South Korea, Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England, Poland, Senegal, Colombia, and Japan. Let the games begin!  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.