Behind #SavePinoyFutbol and #WeWantAnswers

Philippine Football has improved leaps and bounds ever since the “Miracle in Hanoi”. In the 7 years that followed, we all saw the rise in popularity of the United Football League and the subsequent formation of the fully professional Philippines Football League in it’s place. The national team has seen 2 consecutive AFF Suzuki Cup Semifinals. A runner up finish in the last ever AFC Challenge Cup 2014 denying the Azkals the chance to play in the 2015 Asian Cup.

But not all has been well and good in football for the Philippines. The recent performances of our age group youth teams during international tournaments have been abysmal to say the least. With the Senior team performing well, it’s hard to stomach what is happening in the youth teams.

One reason is the pay to play system in place for our youth to be able to play organized games. Most of these academies are run by private institutions hence its understandable why you need to pay to play. These academy employees have mouths to feed after all. But because of this, underprivileged kids will fall through the cracks of these academies and will therefore miss their chance to get the best training possible locally.

Youth teams continue to be bankrolled by private individuals that love the game. But my question is, why? Isn’t that the federations job? I appreciate the effort being done by people like Coach Ernie Nierras, and Mr Jefferson Cheng for the youth teams. But isn’t it time the PFF became more hand on with this? Why do private individuals have to shoulder the NATIONAL YOUTH TEAM’s expenses when the federation gets money from FIFA as part of a development package to improve these said programs?

The Kasibulan program which has been in place since 2012 has been the main source of training for kids under 6-12. The PFF hosts Festivals of Football (FOF) during certain times of the year. It has received the AFC President’s recognition award twice being recognized as the best grassroots program for developing nations. This is a good sign and the PFF deserves commendation for this recognition but what are the program’s results to show for? One could argue that it hasn’t been enough given the results of our youth teams. The oldest batch in that inaugural year should be at the age of 15-16 this year meaning they should make the bulk of the team representing the U16 national team. The current results of our U16 teams? 8-0 Loss to Korea Republic, Respectable 2-0 Loss to PR China, and an embarrassing 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Myanmar. Clearly there is more work that should be done?

What is the PFF doing to improve awareness for the game in the community and school group levels besides the Kasibulan program? Is it not possible to have an agreement with our Education Department to require that Football be taught at schools starting from possibly kindergarten? One could argue that yes, Football is being taught in some schools like DBTC for example but it isn’t mandatory to be taught in all schools nationwide. This pathway might not result in us producing world class players but the least it could do is help the game etch into the ordinary Juan’s consciousness and in turn producing more recreational players and possible fans.

Now getting back to the National Leagues, the UFL was founded in 2009. It was the next attempt to form a national league following the failed Philippine Premier League. The UFL’s popularity was boosted by the Azkals performance during the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. It was a glorious time for Philippine Football. Fans were going in droves to watch UFL games, the Rizal Memorial Stadium has seen 8000-12000 people pack its stands during Azkals games. Supporters cultures have started to grow in the club and national scenes albeit some controversy with the PFF banning the use of Drums, Flags, and other paraphernalia of the home fans reducing the intimidating atmosphere it could have created for Azkals home games. The UFL has enjoyed considerable success compared to it’s predecessors but it was a semi-pro league limited in the NCR and was handled by the Football Alliance and not the PFF. Fast Forward to 2017 and the Philippines Football League was born.

The Philippines Football League or the PFL is the first ever professional football league in the country. A historic achievement. But the inaugural season has experienced a lot of hiccups so to say. Abysmal attendance figures, lack of sponsorships, poor officiating, match rescheduling and forfeitures. The list goes on.

PFL teams are required to pay a 25m peso franchise fee, payable in 5 years. Assuming all teams pay their yearly dues, this would result in 5m peso per team multiplied by the 8 founding teams which would result to 40m peso going into the league’s coffers to spend on operation costs. This is a sizable amount in this part of the world. But the problem is, as the season progressed, it turned out that not all teams have paid their dues severely limiting the spending power of the league in regards to the operations. Add to that the ill fated PTV deal where the PFL paid PTV to air it’s games. A bad business move anywhere you put it. You want the networks paying you to air your product, not the other way around. Another blunder the PFF has done is entering into an agreement with unproven Red Card Global to be the league’s marketing arm. Red Card Global has done nothing to show that they deserved to be the league’s marketing heads. And now, without much answers, Red Card is also out of the picture.

There are a lot of problems hounding the footballing landscape in this country. And these are just some. To make it short, the #WeWantAnswers and #SavePinoyFutbol movement has been the result of ordinary fans being tired of the current status quo. The fans aren’t demanding much, we just want TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY. We are all worried where the game here is headed. And we just want answers.

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