MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines Football League (PFL) has decided to cancel the Copa Paulino Alcantara and instead open its 2021 season on July 17.
The league, backed by Qatar Airways, originally planned to hold the Cup from April to May 2021 in a bubble format.
However, that plan was scuppered due to the rising COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region and nearby provinces. "NCR Plus," which also includes Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan, was placed under enhanced community quarantine from March 29 to April 4.
"The (Copa Paulino Alcantara) will not push through this year because of the current situation," PFF president Mariano Araneta, Jr. said.
"We decided that we will proceed with the league by 17 July when we have the vaccines rolled out already," he added.
The PFF has already communicated the league kickoff date to title sponsor Qatar Airways and the participating clubs so they can plan accordingly ahead for the season.
In deciding on a new start date, the PFL also took into consideration the international window on June 2021, where the Philippine Azkals will compete in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in China. PFL clubs Kaya FC and United City FC are also set to take part in the AFC Champions League play-off and group stage.
"We understand the situation the clubs are facing during these challenging times," said PFF secretary-general Atty. Edwin Gastanes.
"With a scheduled kickoff date of 17 July, the clubs will be able to plan accordingly for another exciting PFL season," he added.
The PFF is targeting an increase in the number of matches for this year with 28 to 84 matches being proposed to the clubs, which is also on the verge of expansion from six to eight teams.
"Last year, clubs were only able to play five matches in the bubble season. With the vaccine set to roll out this year, we look forward to giving the clubs more competitive matches to keep the players physically fit, which will benefit our clubs participating at the domestic level, international competitions, and our national team," PFF commissioner Coco Torre said.
The PFF has purchased vaccines for players and officials of PFL teams.
"The players are welcome to be vaccinated as it is protection with them," said Araneta. "We're giving them a choice as PFF will be spending for the vaccines. I'm confident that they will accept these vaccines."