ON paper, the Under-23 Azkals seem to have no business participating in the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar later this year.
That is if we go by the “stringent” selection process that the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee have imposed: only athletes who can guarantee a silver or gold can go.
Just look at the U-23 squad’s dismal performance in the 2011 games in Indonesia: bottom of Group B with only one win to show against four losses, including a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Timor Leste.
The PSC and POC honchos would only point to those figures and it would be easy for them to conclude that there’s no chance for the U-23 men’s squad to win a medal. No chance, no sanction. End of argument.
But since when has “medal guarantee” been made the criteria by which athletes can join international events? I don’t know of any country that has adopted this policy.
Surely not Cambodia, which has not denied its consistently underperforming football team the honor of participating the biennial meet since 2001, when the sport became an U-23 competition. Or Timor Leste, the youngest country in the region, which only started to field a team in 2009 but, for its perseverance, was rewarded in 2011 with a respectable performance, particularly the win over the U-23 Azkals.
There is suspicion the PSC and POC are playing the “snub” card to express their displeasure at the SEA Games organizers for allowing Myanmar to scrap several Olympic sports and replace these with indigenous ones. (Of course, both government agencies would have preferred the “boycott” card, but they can’t afford it, so they’d rather demand change in time for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. But that’s another story.)
But this “publicity stunt” – as Sun.Star Cebu Sports editor Mike Limpag aptly calls it – should not come at the expense of other Filipino athletes and teams, some of whom can spend for the expenses through sponsorships.
Philippine Football Federation (PFF) president Nonong Araneta and Dan Palami, PFF national teams’ committee head and senior Azkals manager, have been bringing their case before the PSC and POC to sanction the U-23 squad for the Myanmar games.
The PFF recently appointed Global FC’s Brian Reid to coach the U-23 Azkals, most of whom are playing in the United Football League where they have gained valuable experience from regular competitive club matches.
And the team is in already the thick of preparations for the SEA Games in Naypyidaw.
Though the U-23 Azkals lost 0-1 in a friendly to the U-23 Singapore squad last June 13, the result is more than encouraging. A few more friendly matches under the no-nonsense Reid, and the Philippine team can be as competitive as any football team in the tournament.
To deny the U-23 Azkals the honor to represent the country based on results from two years ago is nothing short of myopic on the part of the PSC and POC officials.
For one, football is on a roll in the Philippines, and while success has mainly come from the exceedingly popular senior Azkals squad, the performance of the U-23 Azkals in Myanmar will gauge where the country’s football at this level stands.
The team may not guarantee medals, but their performance and experience will be essential in the medium to long-term development of football in the Philippines, all the way to the grassroots.
The POC and the PSC have hardly contributed to the sport’s development in the country – and I doubt they ever will – but at least they can spare the Philippines National U-23 Football Team of such tragic shortsightedness.
The country’s football stakeholders are watching.