PFF still waiting for IATF approval on football return

MANILA – The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is still waiting for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to approve the guidelines it has set so that football matches, especially the Philippines Football League, can resume despite the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

The PFF already submitted a 26-page "operations protocols" to the Games and Amusements Board, which will then endorse them to the IATF for its final approval in hopes of finally pushing through with the stalled Philippines Football League (PFL) season.

The protocols are expected to be used for other PFF-organized events like the Regional Festival of Football, PFF Women's League, the PFF U15 and U17 Boys Championships, and the PFF U16 and U18 Regional Championships, which are postponed like the PFL until further notice.

According to the PFF, the protocols are based on the guidelines set by football leagues which have already returned to play.

The German Bundesliga finally finished its season on Saturday with Bayern Munich already clinching the championship two weeks before that.

The English Premier League also returned to play, and Liverpool ended a 30-year drought for a first division championship on Friday (Philippine Time) with some help from Chelsea, which shut down Manchester City's last gasp to keep the title with a 2-1 home win. Liverpool did so with a record-setting seven matches to spare.

The LaLiga Santander also returned to play with Real Madrid and Barcelona engaging in a tight championship battle.

The PFF also said that it adopted the guidelines set by FIFA and the World Health Organization regarding the health and safety of players.

PFF president Nonong Araneta recently set a June 15 restart of training in hopes that restrictions in Metro Manila and Laguna will be eased to the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) at that time so that it can finally push through with the PFL season by July 15.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte kept the two provinces under GCQ, effectively postponing anew the PFL kickoff. Duterte will announce the new lockdown classifications by Tuesday.

Cannot be canceled

With the supposed training schedule already stalled by the extension of GCQ, the chances of the PFL pushing through with the 2020 season just got bleaker.

But according to a sportswriter covering football, the PFL should still push through even if it may start as late as September.

"The fan in me ang magsasalita na 'di siya pwedeng ma-cancel (The fan in me will tell you that it should not be canceled)," Jaimer dela Cruz of Huddle PH said.

He said 2020 should be the year that the "fruits of labor," that is, the positive effects, of the "Miracle in Hanoi" in 2010 will go full bloom.

"2020 is supposed to be the year na nage-enjoy na tayo sa fruits of labor na 'yun (that we should be enjoying those fruits of labor)," dela Cruz added.

Since that "Miracle", in which the Azkals shocked the Southeast Asian football community after blanking Vietnam, 2-0, in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup group stages, football made its rise in the Philippines.

The Azkals are currently the third-best team in Southeast Asia based on the recent FIFA rankings and at one point were number one in the region.

The biggest breakthrough came last year when the Azkals qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, even coming close to forcing a draw against perennial powerhouse South Korea.

The development also saw club football getting the needed hype and improvement, leading to Philippine clubs like Global Makati, Kaya Iloilo, and Ceres Negros competing in the AFC Cup.

This also saw Azkals like Martin Steuble and Patrick Deyto getting signed up overseas especially in Thailand, which has the toughest top tier league in the ASEAN region.

Some others, like Daisuke Sato and Neil Etheridge, have found themselves playing first division football in Europe.

Sato once strutted his wares in Romania, while Etheridge helped Cardiff City secure promotion to the Premier League in 2019 and became the first Filipino to start in the league.

The biggest positive note league-wise came after it was announced that the Philippines will have two representatives to the 2021 AFC Champions League (AFCCL).

This year's PFL champion will earn an outright seat in the group stages of the AFCCL, while the runner-up will be playing in the qualifying rounds.

Dela Cruz said the PFL should still go on so that the local players could get into game shape in anticipation of an Azkals callup for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The AFF Suzuki Cup has been tentatively scheduled from Nov. 23-Dec. 31, but according to the PFF, the dates are still subject to AFF's approval.

"Paano tayo magpa-participate (How can we participate) if the PFL is still not playing?" dela Cruz quipped, citing that the other Southeast Asian nations have begun restarting their football leagues. (PNA) 

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