By Joaquin Henson
Holding on to the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) presidency on the basis of a technicality upheld by FIFA despite 26 of 33 provincial associations voting for his ouster, Jose Mari Martinez said yesterday nobody can change his decision to surrender the country’s prerogative to host one of two semifinal matches against Indonesia in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Championships.
Martinez said he will leave for Jakarta on Monday to discuss with AFF secretary-general Dato Paul Mony Samuel of Malaysia and chairman of the competition committee Ravy Khek of Cambodia the details of the semifinal series, particularly how to divide the gate receipts. The matches are scheduled on Dec. 16 and 19.
“Not too many people can understand or accept that we have no football stadium that is acceptable to the AFF,” said Martinez. “We checked on three possible venues but unfortunately, none meets the standards of FIFA and the AFF. I’ve been on the phone with Ravy the last two days and I’ve decided to give up our right to host one of our two semifinal matches. By insisting on hosting, I am not prepared to lose the chance for us to play in the semifinals and even possibly, the finals.”
Because of no acceptable venue, the AFF allowed the Philippines to choose a neutral country to take over its hosting rights but Martinez ruled that out, too.
“I don’t think a neutral country will be able to generate a crowd bigger than what Jakarta can,” said Martinez. “I don’t want our team to miss out on the experience of playing before 40,000 to 80,000 fans. I’m also thinking about the gate receipts. So I’ve decided as PFF president, to give Jakarta the right to host both our semifinal matches. This will now be an away-and-away series for us, no longer home-and-away.”
Martinez said he will play “hard to get” with the AFF organizers in negotiating the PFF’s share of gate receipts. The matches will likely be played at the 88,000-seat Gelora Bung Kamo Stadium in Jakarta.
“The AFF will advance our plane fares and hotel stay,” said Martinez. “The expenses will be taken out of our share of gate receipts. I won’t accept less than 50 percent of the gate receipts, net of expenses, and I will give the majority of the money to the players. Dan Palami is only the team manager. I will give him something to cover some of his expenses but most of the money will go to the players because they worked hard for it.”
Martinez estimated the PFF to pocket at least $200,000 from its share of gate receipts each match. “If the crowd is 40,000 and our share is $5 for every ticket sold, we can gross $200,000,” he said. “But the crowd could go up to 80,000, so our take could go as high as $400,000. That’s just for one match. We’ll be playing two matches in Jakarta.”
Martinez said the Philippines should be recognized for barging into the semifinals the hard way by advancing to the tournament proper with Laos through the qualifiers. The Philippines crushed Timor Leste, 5-0, and drew with Laos, 2-2, and Cambodia, 0-0, to advance. Then, the underdog Philippines took the No. 2 seed in its group by shocking defending champion Vietnam, 2-0, and drawing with Singapore and Myanmar. If the Philippines beats Indonesia, it will move on to play the survivor of the Vietnam-Malaysia semifinals in the finals on Dec. 26 and 29.
“This is a miracle team,” said Martinez. “No matter what people say, I must have done something good during my administration for our national team to show this result. Our FIFA world ranking is going up. Playing in the Suzuki Cup semifinals is a great experience for our team. It’s good for the Philippines. I just hope people will now see the commercial value of football as a sport.”
Martinez said one of the proposed venues, Panaad Stadium in Bacolod, only has 500 luminous lights, way below the FIFA standard of 1,200, and the Suzuki Cup requires the matches to be played at night.
The AFF confirmed Martinez’ contention that the Philippines has no FIFA-standard football stadium. “None of the proposed venues in the Philippines reached the required standards stipulated in the hosting obligations of the tournament,” said the AFF.
Mariano Araneta Jr., who was recently elected by the PFF National Congress as interim president, said he will not question Martinez’ authority to represent the country in the Suzuki Cup negotiations.
“Mari is still recognized as the PFF president by FIFA although we are questioning the basis of FIFA’s recognition,” said Araneta. “It’s a pity that we won’t be able to avail of our right to host one of our two semifinal matches. POC chairman (Monico) Puentevella has announced he is ready to arrange the installation of the required lights in Panaad. Charlie Cojuangco, who heads the Negros Occidental Football Association, told me he will do his share in the effort to host one of the semifinal matches in Bacolod. Unfortunately, Mari has decided to give up our hosting rights and there is really nothing anybody can do about it.”
Martinez said his decision to make it an away-and-away semifinal series for the Philippines is final.