Wanted: More girls in football

Last year was a landmark year for women’s football in the Philippines as the senior team achieved a series of first — qualifying for the World Cup, winning its first Southeast Asian Games gold medal and winning its first major trophy in the AFF women’s tournament in July. The team also went on a series of friendlies in Europe and in South America to help prepare the team for the World Cup, which will be hosted by New Zealand and Australia this year.

GOOD START TO 2023. The Sheba FC Girls U17 team opened its 2023 season with a title after beating Cebu United in the finals of the Sinulog Cup.

The future looks bright for women’s football, right?

Not exactly.

The women’s team’s success should inspire more girls to get into the game, but it seems that’s not the case in Cebu, which has the more active women’s football scene among member FAs of the Philippine Football Federation. In its latest tournaments, the number of entries for the women’s age groups, particularly the Girls 17 and younger divisions, have been falling.

And that is not a good development.

Maybe this is one of the effects of the pandemic, which saw grassroots development halted for two years. Pre-pandemic, summer was the time when new players learn the game under various clinics by clubs and FAs. Most of them start at the mixed U11 division in the tournaments after the clinic before joining their own Girls 13 or Girls 15 divisions a year later.

I hope that’s the case and that this dip in numbers is just a temporary glitch.

As for our women’s senior team, it has never relied on our local girls, to the chagrin of some who make it all the way to the national youth pools and realize that spots in the national teams aren’t guaranteed because they still have to compete with girls who tried out in the US. That the process works is proven by the success of our women’s team, it’s just a matter of improving our girls’ levels to that of the girls in the US.

They are still following the same formula this year with local tryouts via the Festival of Football in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and one in the US for the Girls U20 and U16 teams.

Will the strength of our youth teams dip due to the dip in the number of girls this year? I don’t think so. What will indeed dive is the number of locals in the youth teams. To state the obvious, to get a one-in-a-million player, or in our case, a one-in-a-thousand player, you need to have 1,000 players.

So I hope our women’s national team’s stint in the Fifa World Cup will get a lot of girls to love the game.

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