Sports Sports Feature

Football in the Philippines: A look into its growth

In a country that has an obsession with basketball, other sports are often overlooked. Hence, the development of some other sports are stalled. Recently, however, one sport has grown exponentially at a rate that is unparalleled—the beautiful game of football. The interest of the Filipino people has been piqued by the success of its national teams and the growing media coverage of the sport. Now more than ever, we find ourselves at an epoch of football in the Philippines.

To shed some light on the growth of the sport, The LaSallian catches up with DLSU Green Booters team captain Jed Diamante and Team Socceroo FC co-founder Michael Reyes—whose efforts to develop the sport has seen the likes of F.C. Barcelona conducting a youth summer camp in the country.

The spark that ignited passion

Back in 2010, a revamped Azkals side competed in the AFF Suzuki Cup. Without much media attention, they entered the tournament as the lowest-ranked underdogs. They made a statement when they defeated ASEAN powerhouse Vietnam, 2-0, in a match that was dubbed as “the Miracle in Hanoi”.

Diamante believes that this match was the catalyst in inspiring many Filipino footballers to strive harder to represent the country at such a high level. “The national team players proved that we have what it takes to be competitive at the international level. Football in the Philippines quickly caught the attention of many,” he explains.

Reyes shares the same sentiments, but believes that it was the collective success of both the men’s and women’s national teams that caught the attention of many. Talking about the instance that made football popular in the country, he says, “It was a turning point in the growth of Philippine football as it made headlines and placed focus [on] football in the Philippines.”

Helping the sport grow

An unknown territory to some people, the football scene in the Philippines remains an untapped market full of potential. But through the budding effort of football players and enthusiasts alike, developing the scene does not seem far fetched after all. The emphasis on youth development has created favorable results thus far—creating opportunities in the form of local and international athletes to master their craft.

Moreover, Diamante emphasizes on looking at the development of the mental aspect of the sport. “Sometimes, however, it’s not the technical aspect that makes the best players. It may also be the desire and hunger to be the best athletes they can be. Fortunately, this mindset can be picked up from the dedication and passion of the senior athletes, many of which are setting quality examples for aspirants to follow.”

The Philippine Football Federation, which is the football governing body in the Philippines, leads the way in developing the local scene to flourish. The federation has done its best to support the game by expanding its fanbase through the Philippine Football League. On top of that, the federation has also focused on licensing coaches, referees, and clubs. In terms of funding, Reyes shares that the federation gets about USD 1.5-million from FIFA annually.

What has to be done

To further the development of the sport and to establish a stable system, Reyes identifies three things that need to be developed: establishing a professional football league and licensing clubs, creating football-friendly stadia, and creating pathways by realigning the schedules of football associations.

“The establishment of the professional football league will create a pathway for players to aspire for and for an industry to take off one has to see this as a competition. One that will represent the Filipino culture and its geographical representation through its clubs,” he shares. Reyes adds that this way, people will have more to aspire for and have a sense of pride in apart from the National Football Team.

With the formation of multiple leagues and teams, football is slowly taking itself to greater heights in the country.

Reyes believes that football clubs in the Philippines need to operate as businesses, just like those in Europe and around Asia, to strengthen the sports industry. He says that one way to do that is to dedicate football-specific stadiums, “One that is spectator friendly and one that football clubs have a good relationship with, as it helps football clubs establish themselves and provides income generating, thus establishing more programs for all.”

“As more and more clubs are slowly growing in the Philippines, we need a realignment of the football scheduling. Football will and always develop through the club system primarily as [this is] the model in Europe. We need to support clubs and the association by creating a vision for them.  A vision that will help clubs and schools mend their relationships,” he explains. According to Reyes, clubs and schools do not have a regular schedule; thus, affecting the efficacy of the club system in the country. “For football to thrive and grow, you need fans. In the words of Johann Cruyff, football is nothing without the fans,” he expresses.

The future of the beautiful game

Being part of the program itself, Diamante believes that the Philippines can indeed produce football talent, “There is no doubt that the Philippines has the potential to produce exceptional players. Currently, there are some homegrown players who are already competing at the highest tier in various competitions, both locally and internationally. When Filipinos dream, they make it work.”

Reyes believes that the Philippines is a sleeping giant when it comes to football. He has traveled across the country to promote the sport and sees that we have the necessary attributes and heart to pull through. “If there is one thing to highlight about Philippine Football players [it’s their] creative athleticism—I have traveled across the Philippines to help promote football and it still brings fond memories of so much young Filipinos ready to be discovered. From bicycle kicks, overhead kicks, and fiestas, there is no doubt that one day Philippine Football
will rise.”

With all the developments and progress produced, the future is indeed bright with people like Jed Diamante and Michael Reyes continuing the fight for a football culture that is truly Filipino.

Rob Matibag

By Rob Matibag

Alfonso Reyes

By Alfonso Reyes

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