By Xy-Zha Cabanlong
MANILA, Philippines -- With the entire Metro Manila looming to be placed under General Community Quarantine starting June 1, Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta is hopeful that the Inter-Agency Task Force will consider allowing football games to be played.
In an interview in the Eat, Sleep, Breathe Football Podcast on Wednesday night, Araneta answered questions mostly about the fate of the sport in the country and how is football coping up in the region.
"I have been talking to fellow ASEAN federations, and the other member federations in Asia. We have been exchanging notes with regards to the protocols that we have to set in order for the games to commence or resume," said Araneta as part of his opening statement in the podcast.
He also mentioned that he has been observing other countries outside the region who had either resumed their league or allowed their teams to practice like Germany and Spain.
"I don’t see any reason why we cannot also open our league since countries that have been badly hit by the pandemic like Spain and Germany have opened their leagues," Araneta assessed.
Araneta mentioned that the PFF has already drafted a protocol that they will be presenting to the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) on Thursday, to which upon the approval of GAB, will be presented to the IATF for their final say.
The PFF is hopeful that the Philippines would follow the footsteps of neighbour Vietnam in allowing football matches to be played. However, there will be some changes in the playing venue of the Philippines Football League once it has the nod from the government to commence.
With the Rizal Memorial Stadium standing close to two COVID-19 treatment facilities, the PFF says that it has been ruled out as the venue for the games in the meantime so as not to compensate the safety of the players, staff and officials.
Unfortunately, it is also the same with the Binan Football Stadium which is adjacent to a COVID-19 treatment facility.
"[The PFF National Training Centre in] Carmona is the venue that we are looking at as soon as we have the green light to start the league," Araneta said.
He added that the said stadium is the best option for the PFF to hold not just the games in the PFL but possibly for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and the AFF Suzuki Cup as well.
"The only problem with the Carmona stadium is that it is not acceptable for FIFA A matches, but because there will be no fans, they might consider it," Araneta continued.
However, he did not rule out a possibility to hold the Azkals' upcoming matches on the road instead.
Araneta also added that while the PFF is keen on the opening of the fourth season of the PFL, it will not be the same thing for the Copa Paulino Alcantara.
"We will push through with the PFL if they allow us, but we cannot continue with the Copa Paulino Alcantara," Araneta said, citing that time is the main factor of the cancellation of the supposed third season of the cup.
If the protocols that the PFF will present to the GAB are approved, teams may be allowed to practice beginning June 15, in the condition that they will practice utmost safety in their training.
"If there are no cases of COVID-19 [on the players or staff or team officials] within three weeks of practice sessions, then it is safe to open the league. If the decision of the GAB and IATF is favourable to us, PFL will open on July 15," Araneta mentioned.
When asked about his vision of Philippine Football after the pandemic, Araneta says that it is a challenging time for sports, not just in the country, but for the rest of the world but so long as there are stakeholders willing to help in order for the games to push through despite the absence of live audience, he thinks that sports and football in particular will survive.
"Once there is a vaccine for COVID-19, then we can go back to normal. But as long as there's no vaccine, it's very difficult to go back to normal," Araneta said
Before the end of the interview, Araneta also assured the fans that the league sponsor, Qatar Airways, is still keen on helping the PFL.
"It's a big thing that we do have a sponsor that is also sponsoring the FIFA World Cup. It's like an big boost for country that we do have Qatar Airways backing our league. They told me that they are still willing to sponsor us and that they are just waiting for our advise on when will the PFL commence," Araneta explained.
In parting, the PFF president assured the football loving Filipinos that they are trying their very best to bring the games back in the country.
"Rest assured that we are doing our best to put football in the map again and make our players play again," Araneta concluded.