(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu’s Nov. 30 edition)
Almost two decades ago, when only a handful cared about Philippine football, one Philippine Football Federation president aspirant boldly declared that he’d resign from his post if he couldn’t make football the second most popular sport in the country in six months.
He won, not because of that promise. When he won, I got to talk with a few football officials and nobody, nobody believed that he was serious. But his populous sound bite got him his 15 minutes or 15 square inches of newspaper space, a decade before another president made three-to-six months his favorite soundbite.
He didn’t succeed, of course and making football the second most popular sport in the country.
Incoming PFF president John Anthony Gutierrez of the Bukidnon FA made no such claim but that is a challenge he must face. To make football popular. But by popular I don’t mean that he should go out on a PR blitz to get football in mainstream news or in the content of influencers. He should make football accessible to anyone.
There’s a reason why the new generation of footballers are the sons and daughters of former footballers–access. It’s the former players who know who to approach and where to go if they want their kids to play football. That isn’t the case for anyone who sees the Azkals or the Filipinas for the first time and whose interest gets piqued enough that he or she wants to play football.
Football is still an elitist sport in the country and that is something that should be changed.
Yes, Nonong Araneta has done so much in expanding the pool of players, referees and coaches but his expansion, again, was limited because of the lack of access of the sport.
I assume, of course, the new PFF president will continue Nonong’s youth programs, but I hope Mr. Gutierrez will also branch out and seek another way in bringing the sport to the masses.
Rare are the talents who are the first-generation footballers in their family in the country and we have privately-initiated programs to thank for that.
How can the new PFF president address that? There are many suggestions, all involve thinking out of the box.
The Philippine model of tapping the Filipino diaspora for talent is proving to be a successful one, it’s so successful that our Asean neighbors is copying it.
However, this top-to-bottom approach isn’t good for Philippine football’s long-term prospect.
Again, before we can think of finding that one-in-a-million homegrown player, we need a million players. And if football remains an elitist sport, we can’t get to that number.