Bernardo M. Villegas
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Let Us Join Football Mania (Part 1)

           From June 14 to July 15, 2018, billions of people all over the world will be caught with the Football Mania that breaks out each time the World Cup is held every four years.  This time the matches will be held in cities in Russia.  Thanks to ABS-CBN, the relatively few Filipinos who are football fanatics will have the opportunity to watch the games in its sports channel. I am enjoining all those who are trying hard to promote football as a national sport to encourage their relatives and friends to watch some of the more exciting games (like those of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and France) so that we can take advantage of the few occasions when world class football can be viewed for free by the public.  Local football is hardly covered by our local TV channels and that is one of the biggest obstacles to the flourishing of the newly inaugurated Philippines Football League that is now on its second season.  Filipino football fans, however, should not get discouraged.  We should at least be consoled by the fact that a consumer research showed that football is third in sports interest levels among the Filipino public after basketball (63%), boxing (34%) and football (25%).  However, when it comes to broadcast hours, football ranks even lower than volleyball (especially ladies volleyball).  Football is not a spectator sport in the Philippines, unlike in practically all countries of the world (except the United States from which we inherited our obsession with basketball).

         It has not been a very promising start with the Philippines Football League that started with eight clubs in March 2017.  By the second season that started last March 2018, the number had been whittled down to six. The captain of the Ceres Negros Club, that won the championship in the first season, was very vocal about the limitations of the League which he attributed to lack of support from the stakeholders, starting with the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).  Atty. Ed Gastanes, General Secretary of the PFF, admits that not enough financial support is coming from the various local stakeholders of the football industry.  PFF has to largely depend on foreign sources of funds such as FIFA and hopefully in the near future, as PFF President Mariano Araneta mentioned to me in a private interview, from generous countries like Qatar.  Local sponsors—such as San Miguel Corporation (sponsor of the Davao Eagle Club) and the CERES Transport Company in Negros Occidental—have helped significantly, but they are few and far between.  Even electricity giant MERALCO that sponsored one of the clubs in the first season had to pull out for budgetary reasons.  Atty Gastanes revealed in a recent conference on the football industry that there may be two additional clubs in the League for 2019.  What is notable is that the majority of prospective sponsors are MNCs marketing foreign brands.

         It is quite clear that in comparison with the very successful football leagues in Europe and even in our neighboring Asian countries, the PFL is just taking the first step in  a journey of a thousand miles.  That is why the stakeholders have to be more patient and should persevere in their efforts with the long run in mind.  As a football enthusiast, I shared with Mr. Araneta my ambitious dream that all the stakeholders—the PFF, the existing clubs, the local governments like Binan and Bacolod; the schools; the corporate sponsors;  the nongovernmental organizations like Gawad Kalinga,  Henry Moran Foundation and Football For Humanity Foundation; and some foreign embassies like those of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and South Africa, exert every effort to prepare the Philippine national team to qualify for the World Cup by 2030!   Impossible?  Well, just consider very small nations who have qualified for the World Cup this year:  Iceland (population 334,252); Panama (4 million); Croatia (4.3 million); Senegal (15.4 million).  We have 105 million people fifty percent of whom are under 23 years of age. Besides, by 2030 there may already be 48 nations that can participate in the World Cup instead of the present 32.  Let us promote the playing of football at the grassroots, i.e. the public school system, street children in depressed areas, and among middle class families in their residential neighborhoods  such as subdivisions and condominium units. In time, we can produce world class players. They can follow the footsteps of top Filipino booters like Chieffy Caligdong, Amani Aguinaldo, Ali Go, Eduardo Sacapano, Jason Sabio and Ruben Doctora.

         Following the principle of subsidiarity, this effort should be primarily a private initiative, except of course in the public school system which should be a government responsibility.  To serve as illustrative cases, let me cite the following role models of private efforts to promote football (or more strictly futsal) at the grassroots level.  The Henry V. Moran Foundation, together with La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) Batch 73, Globe Telecom, Toby’s Sports and Department of Education elementary schools from Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Quezon City, Manila and Muntinlupa have been conducting street football programs for public school children ages 8 to 16 years old (boys and girls).  In May 2018, there were 300 public schools participating with 10,000 children. They came from 16 divisions of the Department of Education in the National Capital Region with 20 to 30 schools per division.  Volunteers run basic coaching seminars, orientations on futsals, football clinics, and festivals within the school grounds.  They organize division eliminations within each of these cities to determine who will be the final elementary schools to represent their respective cities in a tournament that is held annually at the La Salle Green Hills.   A few of the children thus trained can be the future players for clubs and eventually the national team.  The vast majority will be the football fanatics who will appreciate the game enough to watch live football games in stadia or at least be the audiences for the televised matches in the future.

         Then there are NGOs that use football as an instrument for fostering peace and integral human development.  Some time last May 2018, ten visiting refugee children from Marawi and 20 Muslim orphans of war from the Dar Amanah Children’s Home in Silang, Cavite, were treated to a football fun day by Football for Humanity Foundation (FFH) and VXI Philippines at the Sparta Football complex in Mandaluyong City.    As Chris Thomas, FFH founder, commented: “These kids have been through a lot psychologically and physically, and we believe football, which is a new experience for some of them, will awaken their sense of fun, teamwork, excitement, and love for action…It is a child’s right to play and we’re bringing back this joy, which is really necessary to erase the trauma of the past year, when their homes, families and friends in Marawi were subjected to the violence and tragedy of war.”  FFH is an NGO dedicated to using football and the power of play to create personal and social transformations.  I am also reminded of the football clinics that Gawad Kalinga, Team Socceroo and Henry Moran Foundation organized in January 2014 during the visit of Pope Francis to typhoon-ravaged Leyte .  They gathered the children of those who perished from the typhoon and helped them through their playing of football to overcome the trauma resulting from the tragic loss of parents and siblings. 

The coaches and the children were encouraged by the thought that Pope Francis himself is a football enthusiast, whose favorite team is an Argentinian club called San Lorenzo.  In fact, both the coaches and the kids donned San Lorenzo shirts during that memorable visit of Pope Francis. (To be continued).