Opening of leagues in Korea, other countries gives Philippine football boss hope of restart

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at May 26 2020 07:23 PM | Updated as of May 26 2020 09:52 PM

General view during the a K League 1 match in Jeonju city, South Korea on May 8. Despite most sports being cancelled around the world, the Korean football league started behind closed doors due to the spread of the coronavirus disease. Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters

Opening local league to benefit Azkals, as PH prepares for world tilts

Safety first is the mantra of Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta Jr. once the “beautiful game” kicks off again in the country.

“The safety of our participants has to be paramount,” Araneta said of his mindset in an interview held over the weekend in pitching football’s return, beginning with the start of the 2020 edition of the Philippines Football League, the country’s pro league. 

In consultation with the sport’s stakeholders, he bared that the PFF has drafted its own quarantine guidelines, which he and PFF general secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes will present to the Games Amusement Board chairman Baham Mitra within the week for approval. The GAB is the regulatory body for professional sports. 

Araneta said he was hopeful that the GAB would endorse the PFF’s football play protocols to the Inter-Agency Task Force overseeing the present virus crisis for its go-signal, paving the way for the PFL’s start.

“Once we are able get the IATF’s OK, then we look forward to starting practice in June and then the PFL can kick off in July,” he said of the six-team league made up of Ceres FC, Stallion FC, Kaya FC, Mendiola FC, Global FC and the Under-22 Aspirants team. 

“There will be pre-testing for all athletes, all technical officials and those who will be involved in running the tournament,” Araneta said of one of the prerequisites before the competition can begin, besides protocols for practice and temperature checks.

Referring to the health and safety measures contained in the “new normal” guidelines, the former national team standout said physical distancing regulations would be in place for substitutes in the bleachers and face masks will be provided to spectators.

Specific details about the guidelines to be shown to the GAB were not available at the time this story was posted.

Both a member of the International Football Federation (FIFA) and Asian Football Confederation executive board, Araneta said that neither the world nor continental football body has laid down general rules on how the world’s top spectator sport can be played under the present pandemic.

“Everything is on a case-to-case basis, depending on the playing conditions of each country,” explained the football boss, disclosing that the PFF’s protocols were drawn from the best practices of Germany’s Bundesliga and South Korea’s K League, which both recently resumed play.

The only rule that FIFA introduced to the match given the present situation was “increasing the number of substitutes from three to five,” according to Araneta.

He said he was also encouraged last Saturday by the resumption of Vietnam’s V League, and was amazed by the packed stadiums during the matches in one of the few countries that has successfully contained the spread of the virus.

“Imagine they (the Vietnamese teams) played with crowds, and no social distancing. That’s really amazing,” he said.

In the event the PFL is allowed to proceed, however, the PFF president stressed that the matches will be played without spectators and likely confined to one venue: the PFF national training center field in Carmona town, Cavite.

“We will have a contained environment since we only have six clubs, and the competition will likely play a double-round series,” Araneta said. “Just like in the past tournaments, we will have a League and Cup champion.”

To reinforce social distancing on the bench, he said the substitutes will be sitting in the bleachers instead.

Since a majority of the members of the Philippines Azkals, the men’s national football squad, also play for the PFL clubs, the opening of the league was needed, “because we went them to be match-fit since we still have international commitments in the latter part of the year.”

He cited the resumption of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 AFC Cup qualifiers that were rescheduled to November to December, as well as the Suzuki Cup, the Southeast Asian men’s football championships, in October and November.

Stallion FC coach Ernie Nierras said he has contributed some inputs to the PFF quarantine protocols, noting that “this ‘new normal’ is actually the norm” at his company.

“We have PPEs (personal protective equipment) — face masks, shields, gloves, etc. — periodic temperature checks, hand sanitizers, and other measures being enforced right now by our government,” said Nierras, whose electronics and semiconductor company in General Trias city, Cavite, has been operating even during the Luzon lockdown since mid-March.

Nierras added that he was completely on board with the PFF football protocols, even agreeing to the move that the field should be disinfected after every match, “although this might be a bit of overkill. We will be playing outdoors so there is a low probability of the virus spreading.”

“The pitch in Carmona is also artificial so the playing conditions will be warmer if we play in the morning and afternoon,” he added.

For his own team, Nierras said: “We require our players to wear masks and practice social distancing in practice. We even developed an application for them in the event they show CoVid-19 symptoms, including contract tracing. We want to be thorough.”

Known as a no-nonsense coach, Nierras, echoed Araneta’s sentiments that “everything must be safe” before the sport’s local reboot.

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.