(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - The Philippines is gaining the dubious reputation as ASEAN football’s favorite whipping team as quickly as anyone can scream “gooooal.”

Last weekend, the national team finished winless in the ASEAN under-16 girls qualifiers in Yangon, Myanmar, losing to Australia, 14-0, Myanmar B, 5-1 and Vietnam, 11-0. The year before, the Filipinas were blanked by Australia, 20-0, Myanmar, 6-0 and Thailand, 8-0, but managed a 3-1 victory over Singapore.

The 5-1 loss to Myanmar B was particularly painful. Myanmar had the privilege of fielding two entries and its B squad was reportedly a late replacement to fill in the gap for a team that backed out. Losing to a B team that wasn’t even supposed to play was a humbling experience.

Early this month, the Philippines hosted the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) under-16 Group E boys qualifying tournament in Bacolod City. Before horrified countrymen, the Filipinos were mutilated like hapless victims on the pitch. The hosts were thoroughly thrashed by Japan, 12-0 and Indonesia, 9-0. The Philippines was the only winless team in the qualifiers, losing also to Chinese-Taipei and Bangladesh.

A call was made for the Philippines to withdraw from the tournament when it was obvious the national team would play without significant preparation. But the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) stood its ground, resisting the clamor and proceeding with the humiliation.

There must be something extremely wrong in the way things are being done in Philippine football for the national team to be massacred at every conceivable level of competition in Asia.

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When the national under-14 boys team was being assembled for the 1st Asian Youth Games in Singapore last June, a swirl of controversy gripped the aspirants. Only players with passports were considered for the team, leaving out those qualified but not able to afford paying for their travel documents.

“So many good players from Iloilo and Manila were left out,” said a source. “We could’ve put together a stronger lineup. They had a good young coach (Andrew Santiago) who topped the AFC coaching course in Malaysia. But because of leadership incompetence, we keep throwing away our opportunities to perform well. The parents were so frustrated at how the PFF handled the preparations and administrative issues for the team.”

Worse, the national team was barred from playing in the tournament after arriving in Singapore when one player was found to be ill with the flu virus. The Hong Kong team was also quarantined with four players testing positive for the virus.

Several reasons were cited by a sports aficionado in explaining why the Philippines has become the laughing stock in Asian football.

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First, there is no vision or direction from the PFF. International tournaments are scheduled way in advance but the PFF has no medium or long-term plan to prepare for the competitions. Money is apparently scarce – a mystery since funds are supposedly being sent by FIFA and the AFC to the PFF.

“National players are being asked to pay for their travel, if not their accommodations,” said a source. “So in the recent under-16 girls’ tournament, we were represented by players coming from well-to-do families that could afford to spend for their children to travel. The players weren’t necessarily the best players in their age group but they could afford to go. The PFF must be accountable for this anomaly. If you’re a national player, it is the responsibility of the NSA to pay for his or her travel to compete abroad. If there is no money, then the NSA must be answerable to the POC for this failure. Incompetence at the NSA level must not compromise the reputation of our country.”

Second, the PFF clearly has a warped sense of priorities. Instead of building a kitty to construct a respectable football field, the PFF used money to erect an office in a place surrounded by homes.

“The building is beautiful but what good is a building if it stands for nothing,” said the aficionado. “If a building was necessary, I would’ve had it constructed at a site close to a space that may later be made into a football pitch. I wouldn’t build it in the middle of a residential area.”

No decent stadium exists for football. Weeds are growing healthily at the ULTRA turf and the stands are not safe for spectators because of structural problems. The Rizal football field is poorly maintained. If football is to flourish, it must have a facility that is up to par.

Moreover, the PFF has done nothing to develop the game from a school to a club orientation – which is why progress is stunted because the school system is naturally limited.

Third, there is no real grassroots program from which to draw future talent. A regional training center was built in Iloilo but how useful is it? Are there enough coaches to teach kids how to play and enough competitions to play in? Is the PFF using the funds from FIFA and the AFC wisely – is the money trickling down to improve conditions in the provinces? What measures is the PFF taking to be financially independent of FIFA and the AFC?

Despite the PFF’s shortcomings, it is fortunate that several individuals are putting out to sacrifice for the sport they love. Tomas Lozano’s football schools are promoting the game in a big way for kids and a group of professionals recently launched the United Football League to give collegiate booters an avenue to continue playing beyond their varsity eligibility.

But how much more embarrassment should the country endure in international football competitions before the PFF leadership steps down in shame or a move is made to change the PFF leadership once and for all?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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