The Aboitiz Cup returns, but not yet in Cebu

I have some good news and bad news. Cebu’s biggest football tournament — the Aboitiz Football Cup — will have its 22nd edition this year but it will be at the posh Aboitiz property LIMA estate in Batangas.

Covid-19 interrupted the 2020 edition, and based on what I was told during the press con which I attended via Zoom, the Cebu edition will be off the table for now as a business decision.

CEBU VS. LUZON. Organizers of the 22nd Aboitiz Cup in Batangas said they will explore plans to have Cebu champions meet their Luzon counterparts.

The Batangas edition will have 14 categories, from the Mixed 7-Under up to the Veterans 50-Above. Aside from the football tournament, there will be a football clinic and a referees’ seminar.

There were talks before of having the Cebu champions meet the Luzon champions in some sort of a Champions League tournament, Aboitiz style. But that was before the pandemic put a halt to sports events. During the press con, the organizers said it was something that they could still explore.

However, aside from that, what I really want to see is the Aboitiz Cup returning in Cebu not because the tournament in Cebu was the longest-running and most-attended 11-a-side football tournament in the country, but because of how it had come to symbolize the perfect union of a local football association (FA) in the country.

It is, as Philippine Football Federation officials have been told, the ideal privately funded tournament run by an FA. Sure, there are bigger events that have lasted longer, but these are football festivals conducted over a weekend or three days at most.

The Aboitiz Cup in Cebu ran for five months at least and after a brief conflict, it had become sort of Cebu’s Fifa World Cup, with clubs, schools and even other tournaments building their schedule around the Aboitiz Cup.

I remember how Bob Guerrero, then the Meralco media officer, was so impressed when he learned in 2017 that the Cebu football calendar was built around the Aboitiz Cup, with certain days allotted for the tournament.

“They are like our Fifa windows,” I remember the late Rico Navarro telling Bob, who was saying that in Manila, two or sometimes three tournaments are held simultaneously featuring the same players.

That will never happen in Cebu, thanks to the then-Cebu FA, which is now the Central Visayas Football Association. Sometimes, events outside of the CVFA — like the DepEd and Cesafi meets — have their own schedules but the football community found a working solution for that. The age groups not involved in both meets are scheduled for the days the DepEd meet and Cesafi have games.

It’s a simple working solution because everyone in the football community, even organizers of other tournaments, sees the Aboitiz Cup as what it is, THE Cebu tournament. At the height of the popularity of football festivals, there were weekend tournaments scheduled to help teams prepare for the Aboitiz Cup.

So I wish the 22nd edition of the tournament in Batangas will be a roaring success. One that I hope will prod organizers to do something rarely done — pitting the Batangas edition champions against the Cebu champions. That’s something that has never been done before.

Of course, to have the Cebu champions, we need to have our own Aboitiz Cup.

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