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A football renaissance

The Game of My Life By Bill VelascoBelieve it or not, Asian football was born in the Philippines, modestly, and grew steadily until about the 1950s. Though it is still the most popular sport in the world, and the most-played sport for most children worldwide until about the age of 12, soccer has been relegated to the shadows in an age of instant gratification.

Filipinos, who love high-scoring sports, prefer competitions that “fill it up”, like basketball, billiards, boxing and to some extent, bowling. Low-scoring affairs like soccer matches are a far interest, more so as open spaces are taken over by high-rises in urban sprawls.

Despite this, it is still the second-most played sport in the country, at least for children.

A group of soccer aficionados is hoping to fix that.

“People no longer remember Paulino Alcantara,” rues Javier Mantecon, a member of the board of trustees of the new Football Alliance (FA), a group of soccer lovers who have banded together to give the sport a figurative shot in the arm. “He was the first Asian to play European Class A football for FC Barcelona, and has been their all-time leading scorer with 357 goals in 357 matches. And he wasn’t a Fil-foreigner, he was a pure Filipino born in Iloilo.”

Alcantara was just the first success story in Philippine football.

There were championships in the Far Eastern Games, the precursor of the Asian Games, and the Asian Games themselves. But since 1991, there has been very little to cheer about in Philippine football.

“Football can be run as a successful business model, if you have a plan,” adds fellow trustee Santiago Araneta of the sponsoring LBC Express, Inc. “What is important is we do things one step at a time, and eventually, we’ll get there.

What FA has done is to partner with the United Football Club Association (UFCA) to put together a long-term business plan for the sport. The existing teams of the United Football League will each get corporate sponsors, either their own or enlisted by FA, to ensure the viability of each squad.

“As of now, we still have no way of determining which teams should be ranked where,” adds Philip Hagedorn of FA. “So we will have an initial competition to be able to rate everybody, and take it from there.”

The initial tournament will have 16 teams from the Armed Forces, schools and clubs, as well as teams of expats in the Philippines.

Players will receive the same allowances, and uniforms designed by Rudy Project, which will hopefully give their merchandising efforts some impetus. The United Football Cup will run from October to December, and will essentially determine the rankings, and which teams play in Division I and which teams play in Division II.

Relegation and promotion will be incorporated into the format to make things interesting.

The main tournament, the United Football League, will stretch from January to May. And the United Football Invitational, which will include a handful of teams from neighboring countries, will also be held in May. The FA believes it doesn’t make sense to be playing during rainy season.

“We actually have everything in place,” Mantecon continues. “We have the teams who are excited to play, the sponsors who have been very helpful, and even the print media, who are truly interested. We’ve even negotiated with SM to put up a pitch for us near Mall of Asia.

All we need now is to get people to watch the games.”

The FA has taken every step to professionalize the sport. What they need now is a snowball of public awareness to make sure the sport grows properly

* * * * *

In the next few weeks, Pateros will be hosting an arnis clinic for its barangay tanods, under the guidance of the Philippine Council of Kali, Escrima and Arnis Masters (PCKEAM). A similar clinic will be staged in Taguig for the further education and improvement of safety in the neighboring local governments. The project is currently being called Training in Arnis and Neighborhood Organized Defense, or T.A.N.O.D. and will focus on peace and order in barangays. The two-day clinic will teach first the basics of single-baton techniques, then proceed to resolving actual situations tanods face on patrol in their communities.

“We are excited to pilot this project in our municipality,” says Pateros Mayor Joey Medina. “This will go a long way in boosting the morale of our tanods and other volunteers. They will know how to handle themselves in actual conflict situations.”

The project was initiated with the support of Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who has often believed in the power of sports to better citizenry. Other local government units have also expressed interest in having similar training sessions in their areas.

Toronto, Canada

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