MANILA – The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) is set to submit its "new normal" protocols to the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) very soon as it now eyes a July start for the Philippines Football League (PFL) season.

PFF president Nonong Araneta said on Wednesday night that he was to receive the protocols from Secretary-General Ed Gastanes for a review, and would submit it to GAB as soon as possible once he approves the said guidelines.

"Kung masa-submit namin sa (If we can submit it to) GAB this week or by [Thursday], and if GAB will endorse it to IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases), then we can start the practice session by June 15. After one month of practice, we start [on] July 15 if it's favorable to us," Araneta said during the Eat, Sleep, Breathe Football podcast.
Araneta added that there would be a separate protocol for training and another one for the matches.

He said he would seek help from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) so that the PFL can finally start after three postponements due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

"We would like to solicit the support of the PSC so that our league will open or [at least] the teams can practice already," Araneta added.

Araneta hopes that no player will contract Covid-19 once training resumes, confident that he can get clearance for a PFL season start if all the footballers remain Covid-19 free after a lengthy period.

"If there's no case of COVID-19 during the practice sessions--let's say three or four weeks of practice sessions--then it's probably wiser to open the league," he said.
Currently, sporting events like the PFL are only allowed in places under a modified GCQ.

'Battle of Carmona'

The PFF's latest move is in line with the possibility of downgrading the lockdown status of Metro Manila and Laguna, two provinces that were initially set to mainly host the PFL season, to a general community quarantine (GCQ) by June 1.

"Hopefully, with plans to ease the lockdown from ECQ to GCQ, then we can present something to the IATF regarding football," Araneta said.

The Metro Manila Council unanimously approved a recommendation to be submitted to the IATF for the implementation of the GCQ although with a possibility of keeping transport restrictions on jeepneys and buses.

Meanwhile, Laguna residents await the decision of Governor Ramil Hernandez if he would recommend the GCQ implementation as well, although the city government of Biñan, home of Stallion Laguna, made an online public consultation to its citizens regarding GCQ earlier this month.

However, Araneta added that the PFF is eyeing only one pitch as the battleground for PFL 2020.

"We only have one venue that we are seeing for safety, and that's [the PFF National Training Centre in] Carmona. Even for the practice sessions, it will be there," he bared.

Since it was opened on Sept. 9, 2017, the pitch has become an alternate venue for PFL matches especially for the clubs which are doing some cost-cutting measures, making it a feasible option should the league go away with the home-and-away format for this season due to Covid-19.

Another factor that led to the PFF choosing its training grounds for the PFL matches is the decision of the Cavite provincial government to downgrade its status to GCQ by May 15.

A third factor that came in is the concerns regarding the Rizal Memorial Stadium (RMS) here and the Biñan Football Stadium (BFS).

Both pitches are situated just near the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Alonte Sports Arena, respectively, which are currently used as quarantine facilities.

"We don't want to be near that area, because the player may be also not comfortable," Araneta said.

About choosing the PFF NTC, he said, "it has to be a controlled environment muna (first), so if it's just one venue, then it's easier for us to put everything in place".

Araneta bared that he had talked to Stallion Laguna president and head coach Ernie Nierras about the situation.

Araneta said Nierras would consult the Biñan city government since the local government unit and the club already have a mutual agreement on using the BFS as home.

However, Araneta said he was open to having Stallion Laguna hold its home games at the BFS "as soon as we get the assurance that everything will be alright".

'Raring to go'

On the other hand, Araneta indicated that the PFF has been keen on pushing through with the PFL season, the fourth since taking over from the defunct United Football League as the top tier domestic football league.

"We have been very busy talking to our colleagues in ASEAN and Asia regarding the ways to start football in a particular country. We have exchanged notes," Araneta said.

He bared that he received a guideline from the ASEAN Football Federation on how to push through with a national league, and he may also present it to GAB and possibly to the Inter-Agency Task Force.

"The guideline that they have given so far has been only in the office," Araneta said.

He cited the cases of Germany, Spain, Vietnam, and South Korea, whose respective football seasons are back in full swing.

The German Bundesliga and South Korea's K-League resumed play, while Vietnam commenced with its domestic cup with its league kicking off on June 5.

The Spanish LaLiga Santander, on the other hand, is also set to resume in June, and Araneta revealed that the said league also handed PFF its Covid-19 protocol.

He commended the Bundesliga and LaLiga Santander for resuming play despite their respective countries being among the worst hit by Covid-19 worldwide and even said that the PFL should commence despite the growing Covid-19 concerns in the Philippines.

"I don't see any reason why we cannot also open our league as long as we practice safety for our players," Araneta said, adding that the footballers are "raring to go to practice again".

No 'Copa' this year

However, while he hopes that both GAB and IATF will give the PFL the go-signal to finally get into action, he added that the same cannot be said with the Copa Paulino Alcantara.

"We will push through with the PFL if they will allow it, but with the shortened tournament, I don't think we can have the Copa Alcantara," Araneta said.

This will mark the first time since it was instituted in 2018 that the "Copa", the de facto national cup where the PFL clubs also play in, will not be taking place.

For the past two editions, the champion of the said tournament earns an outright place in the AFC Cup group stages, but for this year, should it push through, the "Copa" winner could have clinched a spot in the qualifier for next year's AFC Champions League tournament.

It is now likely that the PFL will now have the second placer in the season to qualify for the AFC Champions League play-ins.

The said clause serves as a "back door" if in case the league champion also happens to be the cup champ, thereby getting the domestic double like what Ceres Negros did last year when it won both the PFL and the "Copa" titles.

Kaya Iloilo, which placed second in the league and interestingly enough finished runner-up to Ceres Negros in the "Copa" final, went on to the AFC Cup group stages this year.

Qatar Airways still has PFL's back

Meanwhile, Araneta assured that Qatar Airways, the new major sponsor of the league, will keep on supporting it and said that it is ready to fix everything again once the league gets approved to play.

"We just have to advise them again that our league will start, and they have actually asked us to inform them again," he said.

"Once we have the approval of the IATF, then we can communicate again, and they're still willing to sponsor the league because we have a contact already."

Earlier this year, Qatar Airways was formally announced as the primary sponsor for the PFL as the airline company seeks further global marketing in line with Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. (PNA)