Sensing the window of opportunity slowly closing, Philippine Football Federation president Mariano Araneta Jr. said on Tuesday that the sport’s national governing body is willing to demonstrate to national government leaders in charge of the COVID-19 pandemic task force its return-to-train-and-play protocols.
“Like what the barbershop and hairstyling industry did so it could reopen, we are willing to show them from A to Z how we intend to conduct our practices first so they can visualize it,” said Araneta of the officials of Inter-Agency Task Force overseeing the virus crisis.
“All we are asking for the IATF is to give us a chance to show them what we intend to do,” he added. “Once they see it and they might be able to appreciate better what we will do.”
The PFF, one of a number of national sports associations that acted quickly so that local football, a contact sport, could resume under the new normal, sent its guidelines to the IATF through Games and Amusements Board led by chairman Abraham Mitra.
Araneta was hoping that once given the go-signal to resume practices, this would lead to the eventual opening of the Philippines Football League, the country’s pro football tournament.
The PFL was scheduled to kick off last April but was overtaken by the government lockdown in mid-March to stem the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.
“The PFF submitted a very good proposal (to the IATF),” noted Stallion FC coach and joint club owner Ernie Nierras of the protocols.
Among the steps included in the guidelines were pre-testing of all PFL participants — players, coaches, referees and other technical officials, etc. — and contract tracing of all those involved in the competition, Nierras bared.
‘Clock is ticking’
All of the club training and matches will be held at the PFF’s national training center pitch in Carmona town, Cavite, bared the Stallion FC coach.
“It’s not like we do not have a precedent,” said Araneta, citing the resumption of football play of the La Liga in Spain, the Bundesliga in Germany and English Premier League in the United Kingdom, which opened over the weekend, although without the usual fans watching at the stadiums.
“Thankfully, we have yet to hear of any player from these leagues of being positive (for COVID-19), yet these are countries that were worst hit than us.”
Nearer to home, the PFF chief pointed out that South Korea and Vietnam have also resumed league competitions, with the latter “even playing to crowds with no social distancing whatsoever.”
Araneta said Malaysia was also set to start club practices, despite the advice of Malaysian health authorities to delay it a bit longer. “Malaysia’s National Security Council overruled them,” he said.
While Nierras was on the same page as Araneta, he stressed that “nobody knows better than our government about the current COVID-19 situation in the country. I won’t even second-guess them when it comes to that.
“If you make a mistake with this, then you go on a reboot, a (possible) lockdown. It is going to take longer. If it takes them two more weeks to review our guidelines, so be it. We are willing to adjust.”
Both Araneta and Nierras acknowledged that the clock is ticking, though, citing the dire consequences for local football should the PFF fail to get the IATF’s nod anytime soon.
Players need to be in game shape
The PFF honcho was worried about the country’s international commitments in the last quarter of the year, with some of the Philippine Azkals, the national men’s team, playing for PFL clubs.
Azkal skipper Stephan Schrock, midfielder Manny Ott, defender Sean Patrick Kane and striker OJ Porteria all suit up for Ceres FC based in Bacolod and owned by businessman Leo Rey Yanzon.
“The resumption of the Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers will be in November, overlapping with the AFF Suzuki Cup (Southeast Asia’s men’s football tournament) in the same month,” Araneta said. “How can we get these players to be match fit if they are unable to practice and play?”
Araneta, who holds key positions in the International Football Federation, Asian Football Confederation and the ASEAN Football Federation, also underscored the fact that the livelihood of those dependent on the football industry, not merely the clubs, would be in peril should the league fail to start.
“These are professional players, so where will they get their salaries if the PFL does not open? What about the other people who rely on football for a living like referees and technical officials. All of them will be jobless,” he said.
Nierras said Stallion FC has about 30 personnel, including players, coaches and other staff, relying on the club for their livelihood.
“We have stopped paying our players based on the contracts they signed,” he said, “so I feel for them. But it really is up for the national government to give us the go-ahead. If they give the approval to start tomorrow then we start tomorrow.”
Nierras echoed Araneta’s sentiments that shutting down the PFL would be a huge blow to local football development, “setting us back at least by five years. There will be a huge domino effect if that happens.”
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