SOCCER A SLEEPING GIANT IN RP
Manila, July 11, 2002 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - The soccer mania triggered by the recent World Cup has left fans wondering if the sport could ever prosper here.
What will it take to displace basketball as the Filipinosí No. 1 spectator sport even as the country is destined never to rise as a global power in hoops? When will Filipinos realize that because height isnít might in soccer, some measure of success in international competition is imaginable?
Fortunately, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) isnít sleeping on the job. In fact, the PFF was the first national organization to submit a long-term grassroots development plan that was the basis of a $1 million, four-year grant from the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Thatís not all. Aside from the $1 million bounty, FIFA delivered $400,000 for the PFF to build an infrastructure on which to set the foundation of the long-term program.
PFF youth development committee chairman Johnny Romualdez explains that 80 percent of FIFAís subsidy is channeled to grassroots development or the "Kasibulan" 6-12 five-year program that started in 1999. "Kasibulan" means offspring and by definition, focuses on the youth, specifically, kids from six to 12 years old.
"Kasibulan" is a nationwide program for the masses with emphasis on the poor in urban and provincial areas. It was initiated by the PFF in cooperation with Bernd Fischer, a German football development consultant.
To implement the program, the PFF signed an agreement with the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) as a working partner. Bureau of Physical Education and School Sports director Rolando Brillantes designated DECS football expect Fernando Flores to join the "Kasibulan" management team under the agreement. In addition, all DECS regional directors, division superintendents, and district supervisors actively support "Kasibulanís" various activities.
The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) pledged to contribute P2 million a year to support the program but has so far, disbursed only P500,000.
"Kasibulan" involves seminars for instructors and physical education teachers, distribution of equipment, and a competition phase. Tournaments, called the Predator Cup, are held 4-a-side for the 6-10 years old bracket and 7-a-side for the 11-12 age group.
So far, "Kasibulan" has distributed at least 50,000 footballs, 17,000 manuals, and 19,000 T-shirts as tools for 20,000 teachers to preach the gospel of the sport in over 9,000 elementary schools in 50 provinces. It is estimated that the program has reached out to 400,000 new young football players all over the country. From that universe, some 45,000 players were picked to participate in 149 Adidas Predator Cups in 2000.
Last year, "Kasibulan" staged 258 tournaments for 101,955 participants in the 6-10 age group. This year, the program will conduct a record 350 Predator Cups.
As regards infrastructure, Romualdez says the first PFF regional center was inaugurated in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, a few weeks ago. He envisions the establishment of regional centers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. To bridge the centers to the grassroots, weekend clinics are conducted to discover budding talent.
The Barotac Nuevo center has facilities for a dormitory to accommodate about 30 to 50 players, an administrative office, and a football field ready for play in December. The property on which the center is located was donated by a prominent Iloilo family.
Romualdez says the broad base of football players spawned by "Kasibulan" will feed the national youth teams and ultimately, the seniors squad. Players from private football schools, such as the Alaska camp run by Tomas Lozano, are included in the base.
From the "Kasibulan" foundation, the PFF elevates the level of football consciousness to the under-15 level, then up to under-17 where the Coke Go-for-Goal program is anchored. The Adidas Cup is for the under-19 age group and finally, there is the program for seniors.
Romualdez admits a reason why football hasnít taken off in media is the lack of an active commercial seniors league.
"Once varsity players graduate, they go to work and find little time to play football," says Romualdez. "Itís expensive to operate a commercial league. For instance, there are lights to pay for since the matches can only be at night with players usually working during the day. The military also tends to dominate the seniors league because the players are recruited primarily to play."
As more and more kids grow up playing football, Romualdez says the soccer population should explode to justify a vibrant seniors league. The PFF is constantly searching for talent and prospects are being spotted in Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Cebu, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Zamboanga, Laguna and Metro Manila.
Romualdez admits that the Philippines will not be competitive as an Asian power like Japan and South Korea in his lifetime. If he lives to be 90, Romualdez jokes he might see it happening.
But when Manila hosts the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2005, Romualdez expects the national team to finish within the top three or four. He adds that German coach Krautzaun Eckhart, who piloted Tunisia in the World Cup qualifiers, will likely return to call the shots for the Philippines. Eckhart steered the Philippines to fourth place at the SEA Games in 1991. Romualdez recalls that in 1991, the Philippines beat Malaysia, 1-0, and led Indonesia, 1-0 and 2-1, before losing a heartbreaker.
"We could use the short-cut approach to become competitive internationally only it takes a lot of money," he continues. "We could spend P50 million to send our national team to train in Brazil for a year and I guarantee you when the players come back, theyíll be very good. But thatís not a permanent solution. Weíd rather go long-term."
Romualdez says the PFF must harness the resources of every football-loving Filipino to promote the sport. He knows that Chinese players arenít affiliated with the PFF and operate their own league. In fact, the Chinese league is now open to non-ethnic Chinese, too. Romualdez says racial barriers should be torn down and plans to recruit a prominent Chinese player as the National Capital Region head for youth development.
Romualdez debunks the theory that soccer isnít TV-friendly because crawlers and roll-tech devices can be used. But if the players arenít fit to play, a match on TV could be extremely boring, he confesses.
Romualdez is optimistic that the PFFís efforts to generate interest in soccer will ignite a reawakening of the sport among Filipinos beyond the World Cup.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
All rights reserved
PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE