A Roadmap for Women’s Football: Why Women Should Be the Face of Philippine Football, Part 2.

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At the Fairplay Futsal League: girls benefit from playing with boys at youth level.

The roadmap for Philippine football must go through the women’s game.

In my last article I wrote how the Filipina should be the face of football in the Philippines. As I was writing this second part, I came across something surprising. Something that explains why the best women’s teams are so much better than the rest, and why if the Philippines wants to grow the sport of football it has to go through the women’s game.

If we are hoping to popularise football and grow the sport we should learn from countries who did that too. Think Australia, the United States, Japan, Canada, China. From virtually nothing, they developed the game, the football pyramid, and steady top-flight leagues.

Their men’s teams are good, regionally, but nowhere near the best in the world. Their women’s teams, however, are ALL top 15 in the world. It’s incredible when you look at it. More than one third of the top 20 women’s National Teams are from countries where football is not the number one sport.

In a country boasting one of the best gender equality rates in the world, this is doubly good news for the Philippines. The Malditas are already just one or two games from reaching the World Cup. By comparison, the Azkals are one or two generations away.

So the Philippines has the potential to become a global powerhouse in women’s football. Here’s how.

Step 1: Safe Spaces to Play

The USA are by far the best women’s team in the world right now. The story of how they got there begins with Title IX. Passed in 1972, Title IX required schools to support girls’ sports. It meant facilities, training, and opportunities for girls. The number of girls playing sport exploded as a result.

While the US men’s team suck aren’t as good, by comparison, the opportunities of Title IX put the USA decades ahead in women’s football. As the great video below points out, in 2006 there were around 3,000,000 young girls playing football worldwide. More than half of them were in the USA.

That’s because the rest of the world still thought women shouldn’t play at all. England’s FA declared the game “quite unsuitable for females”, banning girls from playing football until 1971. Germany and Brazil similarly banned women until 1970 and 1981 respectively.

In developing something new, we need to hit the under-served markets. These are the easiest customers. Later, they become mothers and enrol their children in football too. The USA thought of football (or soccer) as women’s game for a long time because of that. But it grew the game in the country. And that’s the first step: numbers. 

In the Philippines, basketball is king. The Philippines has some of the best boxers, pool players, and other sports too. But that’s for men and by men. The women, by contrast, have so little. With all its advantages, the Philippines should be a world power in women’s basketball. It’s only just top 50. Volleyball exploded for a time, but it’s losing traction.

Aside from the politics in Philippine sports, it’s also because so few kids can play in their local community. In the USA, that pathway focused around schools as they had the facilities. There have been movements for something similar in the Philippines and futsal was successfully lobbied to be part of Palaro Pambansa. This is a good step, though in practice we see schools forming a team a few weeks before a competition and training on basketball courts. As soon as the tournament is done, play stops.

Schools were the answer for the USA. They’re not for the Philippines, because they don’t have enough facilities.

So What Can We Do?

Community Courts.

Three decades after Title IX, the USA hosted the 1999 Women’s World Cup. In the final, the USA beat China on penalties in front of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl. That World Cup still has the highest average attendance per game of any women’s World Cup so far.

The chronology is important. Fans don’t just suddenly appear. National Teams don’t suddenly start winning. First you need to develop a big pool of players and they will sustain and grow the game.

As it stands, where can girls play? Men dominate the local barangay basketball courts. Public schools typically have one basketball court for the entire school. Girls will switch to football if they feel there’s something for them. The crowds during Azkals game are already an octave higher than any other stadium I’ve been in. The number of girls playing could explode if they just had a space to play in their own community.

The good news is funding is available for facilities. Having developed two futsal courts ourselves, we see constructing facilities is the easiest part of fundraising.

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That doesn’t mean only girls can play; girls and boys both develop better by playing together. It just means a few girls-only training sessions each week along with the open play.

The PFF, clubs, and sporting companies have an opportunity here. Imagine the Kaya Community Court or Bootcamp’s Summer Bootcamp creating a permanent space to play in a local community. Clubs can now partner with a community, develop a youth program, and earn fans to watch their games. People watch football because they play football. Likewise, people buy football gear because they play football. Companies can grow the market by helping to increase the players who will later buy their football boots and football kits. Take a five-year perspective and this investment will have much higher returns than the one-day festivals because it can grow what is a tiny market right now.

Later on, we can talk about the frightening potential of the Philippine Women’s Team in futsal, the future of a Women’s Futsal League, or growing the game in schools. As the USA’s experience shows, though, you start with spaces to play. In the Philippines, that means constructing community courts.

Step 2: A Women’s Football Show

In terms of viewership, the most watched video from the PFL is the final between Ceres and Kaya last November. Both clubs are spending tens of millions of pesos on their teams each season, they’re stocked full of Azkals, and they’ve made history in AFC competition against other clubs in Asia. At the time of writing, 16,000 people watched the final of the men’s professional league on the site’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile in the women’s division, the final PFF Women’s League game between two amateur women’s teams, De La Salle and UST, just passed 10,000 viewers. And it’s not been up for a week yet.

This shows the potential for the women’s game, especially if we improve the media content. The livestreams have been a good start but we can’t attract new fans with 90-minute games. They’re not the right content for where the game is as at. As it stands, very little is being done for media. If you go to the PFF website for the Women’s League right now, it’s not been updated since the 4th or 5th game. The league finished this week. The women deserve better.

So What Can We Do?

A Women’s Football Show.

Whenever possible I tune into the Women’s Football Show in England, a 30-minute show rounding up the action in the Women’s Super League. With highlights of the games, punditry, and interviews with players, it does more in 30 minutes than any single 90-minute game can do.

A highlights show of the PFF Women’s League or Philam 7s creates a focal point for the game, a focal point for marketing efforts, with all teams and all fans sharing the episodes. The Philam 7s started this kind of show for their current season, and while there are improvements to make, it will keep getting better.

With the right content, specifically on the women’s game, the cost wouldn’t be much more than existing marketing efforts. Assuming girls have somewhere to play in their own communities, from Step 1, the viewership could explode as they support their communities and their teams in the leagues.

Step 3: Bring The PFF Women’s League Closer To Home

Funded by FIFA grants, the creation of the PFF Women’s League is a positive step. With ten teams competing in a double round robin, it’s incredible to think there are more clubs in the women’s league than the men’s league. De La Salle University blew away the competition in the first season, 12 points clear in only 13 games, but the second season was closer, and it took until the final game of the third season for them to clinch their third title and the three-peat.

Yet the PFF Women’s League has much more to give. Right now, one of the most obvious concerns is no-one is watching at the stadium. This isn’t unusual for Philippine football, the men’s topflight also has next to no-one in the stands and because of the same problem: the stadium is just so far!

With the PFF National Training Center in Cavite, it’s more than 40km from Manila. Hosting the matches at a central venue might be necessary but hosting games well outside the metro transfers the costs to teams and fans. The distance and cost is why notable teams, like OutKast FC, did not return for the third season and others are considering dropping out of the league. And why fans can’t get there.

What Can We Do?

Host the games at Universities.

While some suggest Rizal Memorial Stadium, the rental costs may be prohibitive for the PFF. Universities hosting games means no rental costs, less travel costs for teams, and more teams joining. In exchange for hosting, they get home field advantage. They can even tap their students and alumni to begin filling the stadiums.

With UP’s turf now up and running, more than half of the Women’s League have their own 11 aside field. It’s crazy to think that the women’s game is closer to a home and away format than the top men’s division, but it is. Not all clubs have their own ground, of course, and that shouldn’t be a requirement to join. But we can take advantage of the assets within the women’s game and with a little negotiation of the minor details there is a big win-win deal to make here.

Closer venues means more local teams would be interested and a second division would be possible, with promotion and relegation. I know if the venues were closer to us, Payatas FC would be very interested in joining a Second Division. I can think of another 5 or 6 teams in a similar situation.

With fans at the stadium and people watching content online, we could start talking about sustainable sponsorship, and such a league would garner international attention with women’s football rapidly growing throughout the world.

Conclusion

Girls are typically the most under-served group in sports and there is a big opportunity for football to become a major, even the top, sport for women. The way most countries popularised football in the last few decades starts the same: get kids playing, especially girls. That’s, in part, because later they become mothers and enrol their children in football too.

If we can create the spaces for girls to play, if we can create good media with a Women’s Football Show to sustain that growth, and then improve the PFF Women’s League, the football pyramid can be built.

Not only could the National Team qualify for a World Cup, but the women’s game could create the demand, the market, and the fans to blaze the trail for the whole of Philippine football.

This is why the future of Philippine football should be female. The challenge now is to make it happen before everyone else figures out the same.

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Why Women Should be the Face of Philippine Football, Part 1: The Opportunity

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All-girls teams competing in the Fairplay Futsal League

We have a massive opportunity to grow Philippine football… and we’re not taking advantage of it.

While football in most countries is dominated by the men’s game, the Philippines could flip the script. Instead of feeding off the scraps of the men’s game, the women’s game could become the face of Philippine football and grow the sport much faster than it is currently growing.

Women are the most undervalued talents in Philippine football, in Moneyball terms. They are the best performers by a mile. The potential is huge… but it remains untapped for now.

The Men’s Room

The Philippine Men’s Team is ranked 23rd in Asia. Out of 46. It’s about halfway, and that’s a fair assessment, IMO. There has certainly been progress, but the Philippines has never advanced further than the Semi Finals of the Suzuki Cup and continues to be dominated by Vietnam or Thailand.

On the world stage, though, Vietnam and Thailand are minnows. Since the end of WWII, Thailand are the only Southeast Asian side to have made it to the final World Cup Qualification round. And only once. The best in Southeast Asia are decades behind the best in Asia. And in terms of footballing infrastructure, grassroots, and world-class talents, the Philippines are decades behind the best in Southeast Asia right now.

The women’s team, however, is another story.

The Women’s Room

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As in the men’s game, Thailand and Vietnam sit at the top of Southeast Asia in the women’s game. Unlike the men, the best women’s team in Southeast Asia recently qualified for the World Cup. Thailand infamously lost 13-0 to the USA in 2019 in the biggest win in World Cup history, but at least they got there. In both 2019 and 2015. They will likely be there in 2023 as well.

Qualifying for the women’s World Cup comes through the Asian Cup right now. In 2018, the Philippines beat Asian Cup hosts Jordan before losses to China and Thailand. This set up a playoff with South Korea. South Korea won 5-0. Even so, if there were 32 teams at the 2019 World Cup, not 24, remarkably the Philippines probably would have been there.

The 2015 World Cup Qualifiers saw the Philippines likewise narrowly lose out. In short, the women’s team are not far from the best teams in Southeast Asia, who are already beginning to qualify for the World Cup itself. With the World Cup expanding, the top two or three Southeast Asian teams now have a genuine shot at going to the biggest stage in the game.

The men’s World Cup is also growing, from 32 to 48 teams from 2026 onwards, and there will be three additional slots for Asia. The men’s team, however, have about 20 teams with better claims to those slots right now. The women’s team, meanwhile, only have a few competitors at their level. The top Asian women’s teams are dominant: Japan, Australia, China, and South Korea are typically shoe-ins, along with North Korea when they’re not being busted for doping/being hit by lightning. That leaves Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan, Jordan, and the Philippines likely contesting the additional one or two slots for Asia.

The men’s team are two rounds of qualification away from the World Cup. That’s roughly one or two decades per round of qualification in terms of development. The women’s team, meanwhile, are one or two matches away from the World Cup.

That’s an opportunity.

The Women’s Team have Fewer Barriers (Relatively)

And there are other reasons the women’s game has more potential in the Philippines and why the women’s team deserves more support.

While in general the women’s game faces a lot of discrimination around the world, the Philippines is ahead of the curve. The Philippines were the only team at the 2019 SEA Games with a female Head Coach, in Let Dimzon, widely considered one of the best Philippine coaches of any gender. The same is true at youth level, with Coach Let now handling the Senior Team, her mentees and former National Team players have taken over the younger girls groups. At youth tournaments, little is made of the now regular sight of female coaches coaching boys teams as well as girls teams. In other countries this would be a spectacle in itself.

That’s because these social norms in the Philippines are ahead of most countries. In worldwide surveys, the Philippines repeatedly ranks in the top ten for gender equality and while there are definitely things that need to improve, there are big opportunities here.

Last year, in the second episode of Fairplay TV, we shared a story about this, how people used to say to our girls in Payatas Football Club that they shouldn’t play football because they’re girls. Regine, featured in the story below, kept playing, kept improving, and played under Coach Let in the National Youth Team. She’s in Grade 11 now and several Universities are interested in her for varsity scholarships.

In other countries in Asia, there are laws and heavy cultural pressures preventing girls from playing. While the Azkals have tens of Middle Eastern countries with talented footballers and rapidly growing leagues to contend with, the Malditas essentially skip these countries. Countries the men’s team are trying to catch up to, like Qatar, Iran, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan… the Malditas are already ahead of, or recently beat. Beating Jordan 2-1 in 2018 was a big step as Jordan are the 2nd best women’s team in the Middle East. In the men’s game, Jordan are 10th in the Middle East and would be very heavy favourites against the Azkals. Others in the Middle East are so bad they put men on the women’s team.

Closer to home, just fielding a women’s team in the SEA Games has guaranteed a top six finish. All eleven Southeast Asian countries typically participate in the men’s tournament.

That’s an opportunity.

Women’s Team Full of Young, Homegrown Talents

The Azkals have developed almost entirely because of players from abroad. The children of the diaspora have come back to play for the Philippines, and that’s improved the team. But there’s also a limit. You cannot develop world class talents with second-choice players.

World class players typically have bigger options. While they each have Filipino mothers, for example, Alphone Areola plays for France, David Alaba for Austria, and the De Guzman brothers for the Netherlands and Canada. Players at that level want the best chance at being at the World Cup and doing well there. If they’re not immediately called up, they will wait until their late 20s until they are certain they won’t be called up for their first choice before committing to another. For the Azkals, think of players like Iain Ramsey, who after years of courting finally committed to the Azkals in his late 20s, after once again being left out of the Australian squad.

Millions of pesos are spent finding and convincing these players to play for the Philippines, flying them over and for appearance fees. That’s no knock on the players. They have done well and we should be grateful for their contributions. At best, though, we get a few good years before they retire and the cycle repeats. This should be the case with a handful of players in a healthy squad. Not the entire starting XI. 

Without developing the game in the Philippines, the Azkals are trying to competing against countries like Australia with players who were not good enough for Australia. You can’t beat them with that ceiling. To break the ceiling, we need to produce our own world-class talents. And that’s why the men are decades behind.

The women’s team is a different story.

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Of the twenty players in the previous SEA Games squad, five are based overseas. That’s a healthy ratio. By contrast, only four of the Azkals in the last squad are now based in the Philippines. Just three are homegrown talents. The Malditas were fifteen minutes from a bronze medal, before Myanmar scored two late goals on individual errors. When the men’s team are made up of mostly homegrown players, they draw with Cambodia and lose to Myanmar, even with home field advantage, failing to qualify from the group stage.

At youth level, too, the boys get smashed in every single tournament. The girls routinely reach Semi Finals and challenge for championships. The boys are decades from competing with the best in the region. The girls already do.

The most recent women’s team is also young. Their average age is 23 years old; 14 of the 20 would have been eligible if it were a U23 team. Only Indonesia had a younger squad. Footballers typically peak around 28, depending on their position, and so this is a team five or six years from it’s prime; by the 2022 World Cup campaign they should be even stronger.

This is an opportunity.

Does Qualifying for the World Cup Really Matter?

The women’s team isn’t far from gaining international recognition, just as the Thai National team did. Their achievements could dwarf the achievements of the men’s team, for a fraction of the cost. Even so, would that alone make a difference?

A cynic would say no. A cynic would say even if the Malditas qualified for the World Cup, few people are going to notice in basketball-crazy Philippines. There’s a good deal of truth to that. We’ve seen when the Azkals make history, stadiums are empty again a year later. The interest generated by a National Team isn’t sustained for very long because football isn’t driven by a National Team. We need to do other things to take advantage of that.

Whether or not the Women qualify for the World Cup in the next decade, and indeed however they perform there, the potential of Philippine football is still in the Filipina. If they have a space to play, girls will take to the sport faster than boys, and grow it faster. There are potentially far more female fans here than in most countries, even now in Philippine stadiums the crowd’s cheers are an octave higher than in any other stadium I’ve been to or heard on TV.

The PFF Women’s League can grow into multiple tiers faster than the PFL. A women’s futsal league and 7s league can gain popularity and professionalism faster than the men’s game. Very quickly, their highlights shows would be watched more, if well made. And with a fanbase, the sponsors would line up to advertise women’s products.

Right now, football in the Philippines is still mostly a man’s sport. Not because of the number of male and female fans, or male and female players, just because that’s where the money and attention goes. And the men’s game has been banging against the same ceiling for almost a full decade now.

We are missing out.

With women’s football the most rapidly growing sport in the world, the Philippines could become a powerhouse and claim a big share of the revenues.

We’re missing out on the potential to flip the script. We’re missing out on how close the women’s team are to qualifying for a World Cup. We’re missing out on the potential for women’s football to become the face of Philippine football and drive the growth of the game. We’re missing out on the potential of getting millions of girls playing, creating millions of future fans. We’re missing out on the marketing opportunities.

This is all possible… if only we take advantage of the opportunities.

In the second part I’ll layout a roadmap for how Philippine football can take advantage of these opportunities.

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Imagine: A 2020 Vision for Philippine Football

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Photo @ the Fairplay Futsal League 2019 c/o Fairplay For All Foundation

Right now, the Azkals continue to punch above their weight in international competition. Kaya and Ceres continue to move further than ever in AFC competition. Beyond the top levels of Philippine football there is no football pyramid. Philippine football has relied entirely on players brought in from abroad (children of the diaspora) and the National Team and top clubs have done well to take advantage of this.

Little has been done to sustain those gains on a bigger level. Within the country. And that’s why we’ve been hitting the same ceiling for the past 5 years… This is most obvious at youth level, including the SEA Games. My previous blogs attempted a post-mortem of the SEA Games results and a look at why Philippine football hasn’t advanced much in the past decade. In short, we have a situation where an incredibly expensive domestic league sees six teams play in front of crowds of tens of fans at a faraway stadium, in what’s become little more than a glorified UFL at far greater expense.

It’s important to note also that even with the recent announcement of Qatar Airways’ sponsorship of the PFL, no announcements have been made as to how much the sponsorship is worth and what the PFF will do with that money. These details are standard in press releases and sponsorship of that sort and speaks to the underlying issues laid out before.

This can all feel a bit negative… I know. So how about we talk about how we can solve these problems? How about we discuss what CAN be done to get to a place where millions of Filipinos play the beautiful game?

Let’s imagine…

Build, Build, Build

Every country where football wasn’t the number one sport popularised the game much the same way. They got millions of kids playing. That takes 10 years. Minimum. A football culture doesn’t start with pro clubs or National Team success. It starts with loads of kids playing, having fun, in their local communities.

Most of those countries (Australia, USA, Japan) had pitches already, sometimes in other sports. They could re-purpose them. The Philippines does not. Yes, there is a basketball court in each barangay. But there are tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people per court in many barangays. Mostly, the drunk men dominate these courts. Yes there are youth leagues and palaro has futsal now. But the schools do this for a few weeks at a time, and once the games are done, the court is used for basketball or volleyball or something else. Most of the year, the kids can’t play.

So if the Philippines wants to popularise football, that means pitches. Small-sided pitches. So every kid who wants to play can do. They can begin to rack up their 10,000 hours. Youth development, coaching, tactics, everything else at this point is secondary, because what drives the game is the millions of people who play it for fun.

The good news is there are plenty of grants for this (funding for running costs, such as salaries, admin, and so on, is far harder to raise). Construction of facilities is one area the PFF could really promote and support and do some good work. Aside from PFF funds that are meant to be used for this purpose, there are additional grants available through FIFA and other international sports organisations specifically for development of facilities.

So imagine this. Imagine the PFF made a deal. You have loads of kids who want to play but who don’t have their own space? We’ll help build it. You run it. You take care of the operational costs and coaching and send annual reports to us at the PFF from what is now the PFF Tondo Turf, for example. We get to show our grantors they funded a space for hundreds of kids to regularly play, not just once, but every year. No more one and done. It’s sustainable, a platform to build on, with stories that develop over years.

Think it’s too expensive? The typical one-day tournament costs more than an open futsal court. If you have the land, the funds can be found through the grants for facilities. Meanwhile a one-day tournament can only cater to kids who already play. It doesn’t create more players, which is why even a series of one-day tournaments do not add up to a grassroots program.

The same benefits exist for clubs. Want to establish your club in Cebu, Iloilo, or Bacolod? What better way of establishing yourself in a community than having the Kaya FC Community Court or Ceres Community Court in that area? Now you have a physical place to build the brand and reach out, and as the kids play every day, they now have a reason to support your team. A genuine connection. Your youth teams, community work, marketing, and so much more have their own locations, their own base… and that’s cheaper than the rental fees for the fields in the long-run plus you now have a space to put on one-day tournaments and leagues with no rental fees. In the long-run, you save money.

This isn’t easy. Granted. It takes a vision looking ahead for a few years and upfront investment. But we know it’s possible because we’ve seen it done. And if football is to have any future in the Philippines, this step is mandatory.

Get People Watching: Less Is More

Football fans have been crying out for better marketing for years. The Philippine Football League has typically announced everything at short notice to virtually no fanfare with games played in front of tens of fans.

Yet Philippine football hasn’t struggled to attract sponsors. Globe and Smart, Meralco and PAL, so many of the biggest companies have sniffed around. They just didn’t like the smell. Unreasonable financial demands and the total absence of fans meant media companies came and went too.

So the problem isn’t attracting sponsors and media companies. It’s keeping them. Sponsors come to you when there’s something people want to watch. So we need loads of people watching.

For most fans we have to accept football in the Philippines is a novelty right now. Growing the fanbase means reaching people who are bored watching a full 90 minute game. So stop showing full 90 minute games. Less is more.

So instead imagine a highlights show. Imagine a 30-minute football show of the highlights of each PFL week. With six teams that’s three games (maybe four if a couple more teams join this season). Imagine 5 to 10 minutes of the best action of the game, followed by pundits talking about how each team won or lost the game. Imagine interviews with your favourite managers and coaches. Each week a new special feature on one of the teams or other aspects of Philippine football, like the grassroots or National Team. Imagine goal of the month, save of the month, and other special features that can also be shared on social media.

Right now there is nothing stopping anyone doing this.

Each country has their own version. Like Match of the Day for the Premier League or Eurosport’s roundup of the European leagues, because showing the full 90-minute games is only interesting for the fans of the clubs involved. And right now there’s not many of them. So there’s no market for the full games. Highlights shows can update existing fans and create new fans. That’s a win-win.

Smaller Leagues: Small Sided For Bigger Impact

What does more small-sided pitches in communities mean? The possibility of community leagues. Right now the 11 aside game is not popular. This is a basketball country used to 5 aside action and high scores. So, instead, imagine a PFF Futsal League where some of the best players in the country play 5 on 5. More goals. More saves. More action. Think of it as like the Maharlika Basketball League for football.

Imagine a top division with the return of Team Soccerroo and Pasargad (both have futsal roots), Green Archers, and others who want to join without the crazy expensive fees and club licensing process of the PFL.

A Futsal League solves many of Philippine football’s problems. We need more teams, we need more fans, we need more action. Futsal is 5 aside, 40 minutes long, and has the potential for great highlights and headlines. For us hardcore football fans, yes it’s not the full game, but it will help grow the full game. We can’t sell 11 aside when there’s no-one to sell it to.

Most community teams are unable to make full 11 aside squads, like my own Payatas FC, so futsal and 7s provide a venue where we can grow towards 11 aside. Futsal also has scalability. A top division can quickly be followed by a second, third, and fourth Divisions each at their own central venue with promotion and relegation. After creating the small-sided pitches in communities, the venue is already built. The leagues also become the venue to train match officials and referees, building the entire footballing pyramid.

So imagine a venue in a local community where hundreds of kids can watch their own community team, dreaming of playing for their team as they grow up and with their own space to actually play during the week. And with a regular highlights show rounding up the day’s matches, fans and sponsors have regular, there’s exciting content to watch or get brands out to a growing audience.

This is possible with 7s as well. Philam Life 7s are expanding throughout the country, for example. If there was support there for building 7s pitches in communities and a highlights show, there’s no reason it couldn’t be 7s instead of futsal. Ideally, of course, you have both. And the cost would be a fraction of the six-team PFL, with the PFF able to promote the growth of football and their work every year so much more. Win-win.

PFF Needs a Proper Management Structure

No matter how good an idea is, unless there’s a good team behind it, it won’t work. As it stands, two or three people at the top of the PFF affect teams to such a degree that the last U16 boys outing saw a team formed of the wrong age category, losing 30-3 over five games and the National Futsal team, formed at incredibly short notice, lost a combined 70-0 over three matches. Coaches and players have no chance in these conditions. If these were one-offs that would be fine. But it happens every year.

So instead, imagine a PFF with a clear vision for the future of Philippine football and a strategy for how to get there. Imagine a PFF where heads of department are able to set goals and targets, and are held accountable for them. Where the General Secretary sticks to their role and doesn’t make footballing decisions. And a PFF President who holds everyone accountable, follows through on corruption investigations, and can share the successes and failures and learnings with the football community so that we can see what the plans are and where the finances have gone. Each person would have a clearer role in a bigger and growing scene for Philippine football. Each person would be able to make an even greater difference for this country.

That would be a PFF we could believe in. And it would regain the trust of the football community.

Now Imagine If We Don’t Do This…

If we don’t do this, then in the next 10 years Philippine football will be in the same position. A National Team punching above its weight, but still unable to crack the top 100. Still dominated by Thailand or Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup (and Indonesia and Malaysia when they get their shit together). A “professional” league leaking money. Games played in empty stadiums. Most kids still unable to play in their own communities.

The great news is building small pitches is far cheaper than one-day festivals in the long-run, and make much more of a difference. 30-minute highlights shows are shorter than full games and are way more interesting. And the futsal league and 7s can potentially generate revenue in the long-run whilst developing the football pyramid to support the 11 aside game in the future. With all three, we get tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of kids playing.

Later, we can look at elite coaching, elite talents, and a professional league. We have to build the base, though, before we can build the top levels of the football pyramid.

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Losing Focus: Philippine Football Badly Needs a 2020 Vision

With the start of the new year, following on from my previous blog about the lack of vision in Philippine Football, I’s time to look at what we can actually do to improve the future of the game we all love. It’s easy to criticise, we all enjoy the debate, the discussion, the banter and the jokes. But when the state of the game is fundamentally the same as it was 5 to 10 years ago, we all want solutions. We want the same mistakes year after year to stop.

In my previous blog I wrote about how losing out to Myanmar and Cambodia for the SEA Games Semi Finals showed just how far off Philippine football really is. That there is no football pyramid in the Philippines right now, we only have a top layer ready to crumble at any moment. Most of all, Philippine football can’t push through the ceiling with the way things are. The success of the Azkals at the international level and Ceres and Kaya in continental competition mask how shallow Philippine football is and how much the fundamentals have not really changed.

To see the true state of Philippine football you only have to imagine what it would be like without the Fil-foreigners. Without the talents developed abroad. Where would the Azkals be? Where would Ceres, Kaya, and the other clubs be? The Azkals and the top clubs did well to take advantage of these talents. That’s what they must do. But beyond these four or five teams, there is no support, no grassroots, not even a plan for how the gap can be bridged. Some people are unwilling to admit there’s such a gap. Some people recognise it but don’t want to rock the boat. Some people rail about it in private, but haven’t yet figured out how to demand the change that’s needed. And what happens is that the Philippines gets smashed year after year in the youth competitions.

Blurred Vision for 2020

Looking at this new year and new opportunity we see the closest thing the PFF has to a vision recently released. It is eight sentences, announces the final games of a youth tournament and the PFF Women’s League (the latter being a good initiative) but it has no grassroots development program at all. It is telling that grassroots is described as “grassroots events”, rather than planning or vision. Because up to now that’s all there’s been.

The defunct Kasibulan grassroots program could be described the same way, as events. It may have been well-intentioned, but they were events, with no plans of how to develop the game in each area. It was a whistle-stop tour to get hundreds of kids on a pitch and then leave. There are some good people in these groups, many talk about these problems and how difficult it can be, but as of yet few have demanded the change they know is needed.

And with some top PFF officials openly admitting on social media they didn’t know what a grassroots program was, it is no surprise everything looks a little blurry. So perhaps it’s best to start with some simple definitions.

What is a grassroots program?

Grassroots is any aspect of the amateur game. If we’re needing to develop the grassroots, that means we’re looking to develop any aspect of the youth or amateur game. Anything that’s not pro. It is the Sunday league kickabouts, Tuesday night futsal sessions, it’s community football. One of the best examples in the Philippines may be the Philam Life 7s, which won the SPIA youth development award. As a grassroots league it creates the space for amateur teams to play regularly. Even then that’s not enough for grassroots. What drives all of this is the teams who compete. They’re the ones who get more kids playing, who create the grassroots.

My own team, Payatas Football Club, competed in the Women’s Division and we had a great time with our young girls from one of the largest and poorest communities in the Philippines up against former and current UAAP players and former and current National Team players too. Cue shameless plug for our story:

2020 Vision for Philippine grassroots

So how can we improve things? With the state of Philippine football we need to take a step back and look at how to improve the youth and amateur game. This is, in my opinion, the single greatest thing we can do to develop Philippine football to just get kids playing the game. Right now it’s the only important thing. The PFL could fold, the Azkals could lose most of their games, and all of that would be fine if we got millions of kids playing.

There are plenty of examples for this. In my final series of articles for GMA,I wrote about that and how examples like the United States, Japan, and Australia where football wasn’t the number one sport. They spent decades developing the youth – just getting kids playing. We don’t need another big sponsor, we need to keep the ones that come in. And that means one thing: numbers.

Right now, by far, the biggest concern is there just aren’t that many people playing. To get that one in a million talent, you need 999,999 other kids playing. To get that team of one in a million talents, you need another 11 million players. As I’ve said many times before, the typical kid in the typical barangay in the Philippines just cannot play. If they did watch the Men’s or Women’s National Team and were inspired to play football where would they do it?

Even then most of us don’t go out and do something because we saw someone else do it on TV. Watching the SEA Gamers, how many kids saw Hidilyn Diaz win gold in weight lifting or see Carlos Yulo win 2 golds and 5 silvers in gymnastics, and then went out and lifted weights or practised somersaults? Not many. We rightly cheer on these athletes, but their success doesn’t mean more kids go out and do it.

The most powerful influence on our lives is social. We forget that sport, at its most basic, is something you do with your your friends, your barkada. What keeps kids playing is your team.

Concrete Football

The good news is that doesn’t mean creating 11 aside fields everywhere. Yes, that’s expensive and especially difficult in some of the most densely populated cities on earth.

The best talents in the world right now typically came from the streets. They played football on concrete, they played futsal, or local 7s. Whatever it was, they developed in the grassroots game. In the Players’ Tribune, Rio Ferdinand wrote a letter to his younger self talking about playing local football. How he really developed, not in Manchester United’s Academy, but in local grassroots football against adults. A regular 7 aside kickabout where the young Rio had to learn quickly or get kicked off the park.

England’s renaissance and success at youth level (winning the 2017 U17 and 2019 World Cups and reaching the final of the U21 World Cup) is directly attributable to how many small pitches it created. Most of the top talents come from London, where most of the pitches went. This isn’t just about the cream of the crop either. It reduced problems in the community, too, because the kids had something to do. If you want to build, build, build to better the country, take all that money from the Drug War and build spaces to play, spaces for the community, and then you’ll also rebuild the community too.

This idea doesn’t need any more support. It needs more action.

If the Philippines is to break this ceiling it has to set a vision for what we want Philippine football to be, and then make a concrete plan for how to get there. Measurables, deliverables, accountability, and transparency will be needed along the way. But we start with the vision. Here’s my attempt.

A Vision for Philippine Football

A country where millions of kids play football for fun. Where they can play at their local park, or futsal court, or the beach. They enjoy the game, they talk about it, and most importantly they play it. Because they have somewhere they can play.

Everything we need to do this is already there. South American futsal shows you don’t need coaches to create young talents. Japan shows it’s possible in an archipelago. France shows you can win the World Cup with players who were literally playing in their backyard. See the video below as well as Concrete Football on Netflix for more.

The alternative is, in five years, ten years, and twenty years, we are still watching the youth teams getting smashed to the lowest ranked teams in the world. Still seeing futsal teams hastily organised at short notice with double figure losses. Still watching the best teams in the country play in front of crowds of tens of people. The National Team still putting up a good fight among the best 110-150 countries, in front of the lowest crowds in Southeast Asia. And a football pyramid still embarrassingly empty, with no fans, no customers, and no business model. And most importantly, no future.

We don’t want that.

So to wrap up let me repeat: where Philippine football is right now, the only thing that matters is getting more kids playing. If it doesn’t get more kids playing in their local communities, it doesn’t matter.

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2019 SEA Games: Philippine Football Left All At Sea with No 2020 Vision in Sight…

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Football in the SEA Games comes to an end this week and once again the Philippines wins no medal. Having not written anything on Philippine football for some time it felt like a good time to rant about how much of a missed opportunity this was.

Sayang‘. That’s the best way to describe this feeling. It’s a difficult word to translate but an emotion we’re all too familiar with in the Philippines. It’s the feeling when something is wasted, not reaching it’s potential… the feeling of what could have been. And it’s probably the  best word to describe Philippine Football since 2010.

Because with all the advantages this SEA Games offered to the Philippines, home field advantage, the best possible draw, Schrock and Amani, and so on, the Philippines failed to get past Cambodia for a place in the Semi Finals.

With all due respect to Cambodia, this has to be a wake up call for Philippine football.

The Men’s Team

The 6-1 win over Timor Leste saw the Philippines end the 2019 SEA Games on a positive note. A 1-0 victory over Malaysia was also a good sign. But in the grand scheme of things we have to see this campaign as a failure. Not because of the players – they gave their best. But looking bigger than that.

With almost a decade since the potential revival of football back in 2010, with home field advantage, with Stephan Schrock and Amani Aguinaldo in the team, and with by far the easiest draw of the two groups, the Philippines still didn’t get out of the group stage.

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Image source: https://www.the-afc.com/news/afcsection/challenging-draw-for-defending-champions

This is not an isolated incident. Indeed the results are probably a fair assessment of where Philippine football is at. The Philippines has always struggled in male youth competitions. Bob Guerrero wrote a good article way back in 2015 noting that in youth competition the boy’s/men’s teams had won 1 game and lost 17 all that year. Since then nothing much has changed.

Whether it’s the U16 boys being smashed 8-0 by Indonesia, 5-1 by Cambodia, 7-0 by Myanmar, 6-1 by Vietnam, and 4-1 by Timor Leste or the 70-0 aggregate loss in just three matches in the futsal team’s last outing, it’s the same lack of planning and preparation from the top.

All the Advantages

The Philippines had all the possible advantages going into this. It couldn’t have been set up better. Home field advantage counts for a lot in football. The home team typically win just over 45% of football games. 27-28% end in a draw, and the away team win the rest. The Philippines also avoided Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia who were drawn in Group B. Indeed to prove the strength of the other group, the final is contested by both Group B teams after Indonesia beat Group A winners Myanmar and Vietnam thrashed Cambodia.

There’s no evidence either that the Philippines would have fared any better had they sneaked ahead in 2nd spot, having lost 4-0 to Vietnam in the 2017 SEA Games and having lost all four games in the 2015 SEA Games before that.

The victories over Malaysia and Timor Leste put a little lipstick on the pig, but it’s about time we all recognised where the development of football in the Philippines is right now. There is none. There is no vision. There’s an Emperor with no clothes on and we need people to point it out.

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Image source: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-11/25/c_138582655.htm

Long Standing Problems

Players and coaches do the best with what they have. This is not a failure of the individual players on the team. It’s a failure of Philippine football as a whole. You select the best players from what’s available. You train the best you can with the venues and facilities you have. But when training camps are cut in half, when there’s 4 to 5 hour roundtrips through Manila’s traffic from accommodation to training venue, and with the non-existence of an ‘award-winning’ grassroots program, what can you expect? As the oft mis-attributed quote goes “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

The U16 team mentioned earlier? They were actually a U15 team competing against boys a year older because someone screwed up and didn’t realise what the proper year for the tournament was. The futsal team that lost 70-0 in three games? It had a few weeks notice and virtually no time training together. Players and coaches are being put in impossible situations time after time. If these were one-offs it would be fine. But they’re not the exception, they’re the norm. It happens every single year…

The Women’s Team

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It was Oo for Myanmar, hindi for the Philippines… and other groan-inducing puns. Image source: https://www.the-afc.com/news/afcsection/sea-games-women-final-match-day

The one possible saving grace would have been a medal for the Women’s Team. Individual mistakes, leaving Kyaw six yards out with a free header to equalise and not clearing the cross for Oo to score through the keeper’s legs, cost them the Bronze.

No-one will be more disappointed than the players and coaches themselves though and they’ll be the first to take responsibility. They sacrifice more than the men, in general, considering the women’s game probably survives each year on less than what the Azkals receive for one competitive match. They deserved the bronze, but you don’t always get what you deserve.

Despite the result, the Women’s game is by far the brightest star in Philippine football. The female youth teams and coaches, despite being handed the same problems in tryouts, training venues, short-notice, etc. routinely reach the Semi Finals or Finals in regional tournaments. The senior Women’s Team missed out on the last World Cup in a 3-1 loss to Thailand. With the number of teams expanding in the World Cup and with some decent planning and preparation from the top, the Women’s Team certainly has the potential to qualify for a World Cup soon. But we’ve said that for a decade as well.

A 2020 Vision?

What’s needed is a vision, a strategy, for developing the game. The recent PFF President elections muddied the waters though. Journalists who railed against the incompetency in Philippine football, privately if not publicly, suddenly turned into campaigners. 

Whoever you supported in the PFF Presidential election, Philippine football lost. The campaign started off with broken promises and ended with one brother against another. As for developing the game, the only ‘grassroots vision’ from either side, really, was a national age-group tournament.

Yet one-off tournaments do not develop players. They never have. Grassroots football in the Philippines remains no more than a seed because if any boy or girl wants to play football right now, and cannot afford the P500 to P1,000 fee for a training session in most academies, they have nowhere to play. The only question that matters for developing football in the Philippines right now is: how can we get more kids playing in their own community? If your grassroots program does not answer that, the rest doesn’t matter.

Talents are created through communities and the most important thing a community needs to play football is somewhere to actually play football. Build a futsal court where there’s a team who will use it, ensure the community run youth leagues from it in return, and you will grow a footballing community. Tondo, Gawad Kalinga, Dream Big Pilipinas, Western Bicutan, Payatas, and so on. Repeat and you can create the football pyramid, and later the talent hotbeds.

Others have written similar things as well, but I wrote a series of articles for GMA back in 2015, starting with how the Azkals have hit a ceiling and we needed development in grassroots. It was true in 2010, true in 2015, and next month will be true in 2020. We’re looking at the same ceiling…

There is no point talking about Professional Leagues until kids have somewhere to play. Why? Because there’s no fans. No market. The problem for Philippine football hasn’t been attracting sponsors or TV crews. Smart, Globe, Meralco, and other big companies have all come in. ABS-CBN, TV5, and others aired games. But none of them stayed because no-one is watching.

In the Philam 7s League, Payatas FC was probably the most supported team whenever we brought a van of our mothers to cheer for our girls. If not us, then Tondo, because their kids and parents watched too. More people watched 7 aside amateur games than typically watch the professional players in the PFL or PPL or whatever reboot is next. Not because it was a higher standard, but because it’s their community.

That’s why this all feels so sayang. That’s why this SEA Games campaign has to be considered a failure. Because it could have been so different. These things have been said year after year since hope was sparked in 2010. All of us, including us critics, want Philippine football to be successful. We say these things because we want these problems to be solved. We would love to help solve these problems, myself included.

But right now we also see that this path will not lead anywhere new. If you disagree with me, I hope you can point to this blog post in a few years and say I was wrong. But this blog comes after long-term football fans predicted these SEA Games results. And the last ones. And the ones before that. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Right now, if we expect different results from Philippine football, we are insane. As football fans we hope the 2021 SEA Games results will be different, but most of us expect they won’t be. Because when you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. 

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The USWNT’s fight for ‘equal pay’ isn’t about gender equality in the World Cup… but why they are the best in the world might help solve it.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything and so thought it a good time to get the writing juices flowing again following the biggest Women’s World Cup in history. So let’s start off with a bit of a contentious claim: ‘Equal Pay’ for the US Women’s National Team isn’t about gender equality at the World Cup. It’s about business. And according to this, the women’s teams don’t deserve the same pay as the men. Yet the US women do. 

It’s worth stating off the bat that the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) are not arguing every women’s team should get equal pay, or that prize money at the World Cups should be the same, their lawsuit is fighting for their own equal pay, not anyone else’s. Many of the articles out there right now and the viral posts are saying women should get paid the same as they’re doing the same job. For the rest of the world this is not the case… and yet for the USWNT it is.

But first, a few numbers.

$6 billion: the 2018 men’s World Cup generated over $6 billion in revenue.

$130 million: the 2019 women’s World Cup is estimated to have generated around $130 million.

To expect any tournament organiser to give the same amount of prize money in these two tournaments is obviously not the way forward. In 2018, the men’s teams received around $400 million in prize money (less than 7% of the revenue). In 2019, the women’s teams received $30 million in prize money (over 20% of the revenue generated). 

And Yet The USWNT Do Have A Strong Argument for ‘Equal Pay’

These numbers are also quoted by Megan McArdle in the Washington Post in her argument why ‘equal pay’ is not so clear cut. What is missing from Megan’s analysis, perhaps distracted by her rather bizarre tribute to libertarian Robert Nozick, is who the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) is actually suing and why. The USWNT are not suing FIFA. They are not saying the prize money at the World Cups should be the same for men and women. And so this is not about gender equality in the World Cups. They are saying they should be paid the same as the US men’s national team. Unfortunately this is missed in other news outlets, who end up essentially mansplaining the problem, because they didn’t look at the actual argument, such as this article from Forbes’ Mike Ozanian.

Hopefully where this article avoids mansplaining the issue is because we can look at the USWNT’s actual  argument. The USWNT are suing their own Football Association, the US Soccer Federation (USSF). The US women’s team are looking for ‘equal pay’ with the US men’s team not from FIFA but from their Federation. The reason? The National Teams are not paid by FIFA directly. FIFA pay the National Federation based on the prize money they earn and the Federations decide how much to pay their teams (usually agreed in advance based on how far they progress in a tournament). 

The USWNT brought in just over $50 million in prize money to the USSF in the last three years. The US men’s team by comparison brought in just under $50 million. Despite the fact that prize money differs so greatly between the men’s and women’s tournaments, the US women’s team still out-earned the men in those three years. And at the time of the filing of the lawsuit, the women’s team were apparently earning just a quarter of what the men did. Why? Now that is an issue for gender equality.

This is also why no other country is really generating the news around ‘equal pay’ from the World Cup. This is a uniquely American issue. And there are a few caveats: the US men’s team hosted the Copa America which generated about $50 million in revenue for the federation. They also command a much higher fee for friendlies and other international games. The US women’s team out-earned the men’s team in prize money, though not in other revenues. This is well noted in Caitlin Murray’s article with the LA Times. As she writes, the men’s team did essentially bring in more money but only because the global infrastructure allows that, not because of anything based on meritocracy.

Equality of Outcome v Equality of Opportunity 

Equal pay for equal work is a good slogan and in general life it makes sense. However the World Cup is a competition. World Cup winners earn far more than the team they beat in the final, and no-one is arguing that the Dutch players should earn the same as the Americans just because they did the same job. The US women rightly earn more by beating the Netherlands. Their results were better so they were paid more. 

And with meritocracy in mind, it’s worth noting that no-one is arguing the women’s team are better than the men’s team. The USWNT lost to FC Dallas’ U15 boys team back in 2017, for example. There are caveats to that well explained here (it was a very informal scrimmage and so on) but if the US men’s team played the US women’s team they would thrash them no question. Winning the women’s World Cup is not the same thing as winning the men’s World Cup. There is a clear difference in talent. 

This is why arguing for equality of outcome, as in ‘equal pay’ on the principle of equal pay alone, does not make sense here. We cannot expect two salespeople to be paid the same just because they are doing the same job in theory. If one salesperson makes 1,000 sales they should obviously be paid more than a second salesperson who makes 100 sales. Whether the first is a man and the second is a women, or vice versa, is irrelevant. If two salespeople make a similar amount of sales, all other things being equal, they should roughly be paid equally. 

This is also why players on the very same team are all paid differently based on how good the coaches think they are and how many sales of shirts and other merchandise they bring in. It’s not a perfect system but generally the best talents are getting paid more based on how much value they bring to the team. Equal pay would demand every player on a team is paid the same. It makes no sense for Lionel Messi and the Barcelona’s third-string goalkeeper to be paid the same however. Likewise, the men’s and women’s teams should not have equal pay regardless of how much revenue they are generating. 

And this is why the USWNT’s issue of ‘equal pay’ in football is not really one for gender equality in general. The USWNT are not arguing every women’s team should have equal pay – only them, and only equal to the US men’s national team. Because they brought in more money than the men. And that’s a fair argument. Their argument acknowledges that if they brought in much less money than the men’s team they should be paid less. If they bring in way more money than the men’s team, they should be paid way more. All of that is fair. Looking at the revenues, the US men out-earned the women by a big degree (often four times more) before 2015. A large discrepancy in pay in those years makes sense. However in 2016, 2017, and 2018 revenues were roughly equal. So the pay for those years should be roughly equal. The actual pay is hard to fine online (if anyone has a list of how much the men and women received each year, please do let me know). 

What Should We Be Fighting For?

Like most social injustices, gender inequality is hardest to solve after the fact. One of the best ways to see what we should be fighting for here in the footballing world is understanding why the US Women’s National Team is so good compared to other women’s teams. The first Women’s World Cup was back in 1991. The USA won. Since then they have never finished lower than third. They are undoubtedly the best team in women’s footballing history. Why?

There are several factors for this and a major one is Title IX. Title IX was an anti-discrimination law in the United States which made it illegal for educational institutions receiving money from the government to discriminate based on sex. There’s a good summary of that by CNN here. In 1971, the year before the law was signed into effect, there were apparently just 700 high school female footballers. 20 years later there were 121,722 female High School players and the US won the first Women’s World Cup. Of that World Cup winning squad, the oldest players were 27 years old. They would have been nine years old when Title IX came into effect. 

Implementation of Title IX was not perfect, many schools fought against it even, but it often meant young girls could play in organised team sports with facilities just as good as the boys. While imperfect, this spoke to equality of opportunity and those who did that best became the hotbeds for talent. And it was also leagues ahead of countries like England, Brazil, and Germany who actively banned women from playing football around this time. 

There’s a very good video summarising this embedded below. 

And this is where the fight for gender equality can use the US’ experience. Demanding equal pay is demanding equality of outcome. The problem in football generally is that equality of outcome is not deserved. The USWNT probably deserve equal pay (or something close to it) but practically no other women’s team does. They may be playing the same sport, but against very different opponents and generating far different revenues. No other country can demand ‘equal pay’ in this way. 

What the US women’s team are also demanding, however, is equality of opportunity. And by looking at why the USA is better than the traditional powerhouses of football shows a way forward for everyone else. Their laws created a more equal opportunity from the beginning. This is a great time to demand equality of opportunity from the Football Federations around the world to replicate Title IX and similar laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on gender. If the boys’ football team at your Primary or High School get a fancy new football field, then the women should too (or share it equitably).

There are likewise many caveats to this too. The US focus on school-based athletics meant that equality of opportunity in schools translated into equality more generally. The club-based system in most of the world presents more challenges. But by focusing on equality of opportunity, we can ensure young boys and girls around the world have the opportunity to play sport and build up the entire football pyramid. And as we see each World Cup cycle, the pay gap is closing.

Fighting for equality of outcome often makes little sense in the real world. However equality of opportunity offers us a very real way forward. And in that respect, good luck to the USWNT. 

We can also see this in our smaller experience here in Payatas. As I’ve told many of our visitors when they ask about the large number of girls playing, if we started a basketball team we would have almost only boys showing up. If we started a volleyball team, almost all girls. Because we started a football team, the reaction was more ‘what’s this?’ given the Philippines is a basketball country. One of the mothers said to her daughter that girls shouldn’t play football. Her daughter pointed to the many other girls playing and she kept on playing. She’s on the National Youth Team now. Likewise, the gender balance of our youth coaches and referees are 50/50. The fact that football wasn’t so well known in Payatas gave us this advantage – the gender norms of football elsewhere just didn’t apply here.

In that respect the best way to solve gender equality in football is equality of opportunity. The USWNT’s example isn’t about making sure the best women get paid the same. It’s showing the possibilities when we provide equality of opportunity for kids. The USA, where football isn’t even the number one sport, has the best women’s team in the world because of it. Everyone else is playing catch up. 

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Learning From History; Four Steps For Our Social Movements in the Philippines to Succeed

There is a lot of anger in the Philippines right now. Protests grow on the streets and both sides throw anger, hatred, and sarcastic memes at each other. Whichever side you’re on, one thing is for sure: the War on Drugs will come to define this period in Philippine history.

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It’s easy to get sucked into the petty arguments and social media comments, easy to get angry with people from both sides who “just don’t get it”. It’s easy to get sucked into the details of every new scandal and lose sight of the long-term goal. So I wanted to take a step back for a while and learn from history. What can everyone do, on all sides, so we can break the cycle of anger and hate and together create a better Philippines?

Step 1: Breaking the Cycle of Anger and Hate

roosevelt quote.jpgThroughout the country, people are angry. People from all sides of the War on Drugs are angry about what is happening in the Philippines. In Change the World Without Taking Power, John Holloway writes how every social movement starts with a scream. The deep feeling something isn’t right, the scream that shouts enough is enough.

So first we must realise that everyone is in pain. People protesting on the streets now are angry and hurt about the lack of accountability for police. They are screaming. And it was a scream that swept President Duterte into power in the first place. Millions of people felt hurt, frustrated, and angry. Real problems went unmet while the pork barrel, ‘laglag bala’, and other scandals were dealt with poorly. For all the economic gains and some of the objective progress of the previous administration, they failed to show people they care.

Duterte showed he cared. People didn’t vote for Duterte because they’re stupid, as some people say, they voted for him because they were angry and no other leader offered a solution to that.

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Does that mean we shouldn’t be angry when a 17 year old boy is killed by police? Should we remain silent when addiction and drugs are serious problems in the Philippines? Of course not. But the way we react determines whether we can move beyond the scream and build a real social movement, or not.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes how the only thing we really control is our own reaction. Written about his experiences of the Holocaust, it is a stark and brave read. Frankl writes how other people can control what you do, where you go, and even if you live or die. But no-one can control your attitude; it is the only thing that truly remains our own.

Such self-control takes sacrifice. First we must sacrifice our ego. If someone insults us our natural response is to demand retribution, but we know an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. If we want to create a world where everyone can see, we must break the cycle of anger and hate, we must return hate with love, return anger with kindness.

How do we do that?

Step 2: Show People You Care

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In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann explains how the first part of our brains to evolve was the limbic system. This is the seat of our emotions, feelings, and instincts. Thousands of years ago, if we were startled by a rustle in the bushes, this system would spring into action and make us run away from the perceived danger. It kept us safe. During these moments our thoughts are overwhelmed by a small part of the brain called the amygdala, the seat of our emotion and memory, in what is called an amygdala hijack.

The ability for our emotions to effectively shut down our thinking process is useful when we are in genuine danger. If we stood around wondering what the rustle in the bushes was, we were far more likely to be eaten by a predator. Of course sometimes we end up running away from squirrels.

That we process our world through an emotional lens, that information is processed in our emotional brain (limbic system) before our thinking brain (neocortex), means we still do not do well at distinguishing between threats. Whether we are faced with a predator or a group of angry people marching down the street, our brain process these powerful signals in much the same way. Our emotions block most of our rational thoughts. This literally narrows our vision, as studies show when feeling such powerful emotions our vision narrows, we process only the information relevant to our fight or flight, and we miss many opportunities around us.

This is why many protests are futile. Not because the facts, figures, and arguments are wrong, not even because the cause they march for is wrong, but because of how they are presented. Shouting against something can only reach people who are already on their side, because we only listen to what someone has to say after we feel emotionally safe with them.

So how do we reach across and win people from the other side?

Step 3: Inspire With a Better Future

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http://thesource.com/2014/01/20/10-standout-quotes-from-martin-luther-king-jr-s-i-have-a-dream-speech/

The Civil Rights Movement started with a scream. More specifically it started with the scream of millions of people who had suffered horrible injustices for centuries. It became an effective movement when individuals, families, and entire communities rallied for something. They shared their experiences and their screams, but they went beyond that and fought for a dream; racial equality, the right to vote, recognition as human beings.

As Simon Sinek writes in Start With Why, a quarter of a million people did not march to Washington to hear Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders speak. They traveled because of what they believed; they traveled because they had their own hopes, their own dreams. Dr. King spoke then, as he did on many other occasions, of a world where his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin. He spoke of black children and white children playing together as brothers and sisters. “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

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Every social movement needs to win people over from the other side. If Dr. King only fought against racism, if he and many other great leaders had only called out the injustices of the system, they would have only reached the people who already believed what they believed. They could only preach to the choir.

Of course, uncomfortable truths do need to be told. As King wrote in a Birmingham Jail, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” But to win people over we must get them to believe what we believe. King used the religious language of the time to frame all people as brothers and sisters. And for all the injustice black families had suffered, King was not demanding retribution, he was demanding they too be part of the family. That they too get a seat at the table, not that they replace someone in their seat. They presented a dream all people could get behind.

Not everyone will get behind the dream, of course, and there are still huge race problems in the United States. But this advice is key for all sides if we are to improve things. To say we are ‘anti-drugs’, or to proclaim a ‘War on Drugs’, is a recipe for failure. As President Duterte himself said, “Hindi makaya nga ng iba, tayo pa kaya? Iyong drugs na iyan (Others can’t do it. How can we? Those drugs), we can’t control it”. In part this is due to the negative framing of the problem. Duterte is right, the anti-drugs programs of other countries did not work. ‘Say no to drugs’ has never worked. Only a positive framing of the problem has ever succeeded; a better understanding of what drugs are and how we can control addiction.

So how do we make this dream come true?

Step 4: Give… and Keep Giving

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In Give and Take, Adam Grant writes about how our behaviour affects those around us. Freecycle, for example, is a website where people can offer things they no longer need for free. People literally give their stuff away for free. They could sell it online and make money, but they don’t. They choose to give it away. This isn’t rational behaviour from an economic point of view. But on a social level it makes perfect sense.

People reciprocate. Grant writes that when one person gives they send a signal to other people that primes them to give more too. When one person receives a kindness, they are more likely to do a kindness to others. This is why even those who visit Freecycle with the intention of getting free stuff are more likely to later give something back to someone else. A virtuous cycle is born.

Daniel Goleman, the founder of Emotional Intelligence, talks about how when passing someone on the street, who is lying on the floor in obvious pain, most people walk on by. Most people ignore the man, so the next person walking by is primed to do the same. But if just one person stops to help they break the cycle and other people quickly join in. On average if you stop to help a stranger on the street, six more people will stop and help too. One person’s compassion primes compassion in others.

Our behaviours are contagious. The positive side of this is caring and helping become a social act. The more we care, the more we give, the more others around us start to care and give too. Many people won’t respond by giving and sharing and loving immediately, but if we continue to give, to share, and to love they will eventually respond in kind more than before.

Creating a Virtuous Cycle

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So while there is so much more that could be said, and so much more that could be done, here are a just a few practical steps for how we can bring this all together in the hope of making lasting social change.

  • When you give your attention to something you give it power. Choose what you empower wisely. Our brains are wired to scan for threats, things that make us angry, and this is one of the reasons anger dominates social media. We are prompted to act on anger. Ignore the troll and we can stop adding fuel to the fire.
  • There is always something good to draw attention to, we can always replace the negative with the positive. By scanning the world for the positives and consciously choosing to share the good, we retrain our brain to be happier. This also, happily, makes us better at what we do. The ideal ratio? At least 3 positives for every negative (known as the Losada Line) and people feel emotionally safe with the feedback.
  • Standing up for something is important. But how we stand up is just as important. If we adopt a fighting stance, we signal to others we will attack. We are a threat. This is why the non-violence of King, Gandhi, Tolstoy, and others was so important, and so effective. When we signal that we care, that we demand justice but that we are not a personal threat to you, we can win over people to our cause.
  • Is our protest fighting against something, or does it show a positive vision? We are not anti-drugs, we are for a healthier society. We are not anti-extra judicial killings, we are for- a better justice system. When we re-frame the debate the potential is greater, but we have to answer hard questions. What is a healthier world? What is a better justice system? What are we really fighting for? When we can answer these questions, we have the power to create a movement, not just an event.

 

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What’s the Real Story About Payatas Dumpsite Closing? 3 Things They’re Not Telling You…

Payatas Dumpsite is closing. Politicians have talked about closing the dumpsite every year for the last 20-30 years, but now it is more than words. It looks very likely to happen. Maybe not this year, as is being reported, but soon.

This will affect everyone in Metro Manila. It affects our money (taxes pay for garbage disposal and maintenance), our time (inefficiencies in the system right now drain thousands of hours), and our health and environment (the effect it has on climate change and proximity to Manila’s drinking water).

This is certainly a complex issue. Everyone involved, from Payatas residents to local government officials, have inherited a mess of problems from previous generations. However the only voices being heard are from government officials and dumpsite operators, and news reports like this, or this are not telling the whole truth.

So here’s three things they’re not telling you about Payatas Dumpsite closing.

1) The dumpsite in Payatas is not a sanitary landfill. It is a mountain of trash. 

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Picture taken August 4, 2017. The grass in view is a thin layer of grass placed on top of a mountain of garbage the same as the top half of the dumpsite in view.

Despite the best efforts of local politicians and dumpsite operators to get this phrase into every media article possible, it is obvious from once glance that this is not a “sanitary landfill”. It is neither sanitary, nor a landfill. A sanitary landfill is a hole in the ground, chemically treated and separated from society. This is layers of trash dumped on top of more trash to make a mountain of garbage. It is a dumpsite.

Why is it important what we call it?

Only a few people are controlling the narrative right now, and reporters are still letting them. By calling the dumpsite something it is clearly not, they are trying to say our garbage system, as well as life in Payatas, is better than it really is. In 2000, the dumpsite collapsed and killed hundreds of people (officially 218 died in the trashslide, unofficially closer to 1,000 died according to research and eye-witness testimony). The poor management of the dumpsite was responsible for all of these deaths. And while some things have improved since then, many have not.

This past week the dumpsite has been closed because of another trashslide (also not being reported). This latest trashslide was nowhere near as big as the one in 2000 and as far as I’m aware it didn’t kill anyone. This is an improvement, for sure, and those who helped improve the situation should get credit for that. But there is still a dangerous and expensive heaping pile of garbage. Symptoms have been improved, small steps have been made, but the garbage system in Metro Manila, in general, is still unsafe and unsustainable, and quality of life for people in Payatas, in particular, is still very poor.

It also shows the problem in how everyone else hears about this issue. Rarely have reporters actually visited the area, let alone interviewed Payatas residents. The few occasions media personnel do visit, it has essentially been propaganda. One of the worst examples is this news story reporting the old Payatas dumpsite is now somehow an eco-park. Aside from the fact only a thin layer of grass covers the toxic mountain of trash, which won’t be safe for perhaps 100 years, if they turned the cameras to the back they would have seen the unsafe, unclean mountain of trash a few hundred meters away.

Sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes it doesn’t flatter us. But we need to hear these truths to understand the real situation. Only when we understand the reality can we hope to improve it.

2) The alternative livelihood plan will not cover many people. “They” do not have alternative livelihood.

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Also widely reported is scavengers affected by the closure of the dumpsite will be provided alternative livelihoods. In reality, a few scavengers will be offered alternative livelihoods, but only a few. For a long time dumpsite operators have insisted only a couple of hundred informal scavengers in Payatas, telling everyone from journalists to energy companies this. One walk around the community quickly disavows you of that notion. Down one street alone you will see 200 scavengers working. In reality there are hundreds of thousands of people in Payatas who in different ways rely on the garbage for livelihood.

Again, why is this important?

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As I’ve written before, while the Census claims there are 120,000 people in Payatas, in reality academic estimates say the real population is closer to half a million. This is because most people in the community do not have access to land titles. When families were first relocated to Payatas in the 1970s, land titles were originally part of the agreement. However the government revoked these and offered no alternative, meaning every generation since have become squatters.

Routinely people have been hidden from population counts because they have no land titles for where they live. The poorest families, in Payatas and similar slums, are therefore hidden from the CENSUS and poverty counts, leading to the ridiculous “statistic” that Metro Manila has a poverty rate of 2.7% (FIES, 2015). It is worth pausing on that for a moment. The official government estimate for poverty in Metro Manila is just 2.7% of families.

In short, thousands of families have been routinely hidden and ignored. So when local officials talk about alternative livelihood, they are again ignoring these families. In reality, closing the dumpsite will mean huge numbers of families lose part or all of their household income. They will very clearly be poorer because of this.

3) There are alternatives.

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Payatas is/was so extensively used because there is no sustainable plan for garbage disposal and maintenance. When Smokey Mountain closed in the 1990s, much of the trash (and people) were relocated to Payatas to deal with the massive demand for garbage disposal. The dumpsite quickly grew to become the biggest in the country. In recent years Payatas Dumpsite has been responsible for only collecting the trash of Quezon City, by far the largest in the Metro.

Metro Manila spends about P7 billion a year to throw away garbage. Academic estimates suggest scavengers prevent 15% of trash reaching the dumpsite and adding the work of scavengers on the dumpsite we can estimate it would be roughly twice as big if not for them. These numbers add up to show the incentives for why generation after generation of people in slums are kept poor. Scavengers, including those in Payatas, save the city billions of pesos every year.

And right now there is no alternative. There is no other plan. There is talk of a waste-to-energy plant with a foreign company sometime down the road, but that is many years, maybe decades, away. Right now a new dumpsite will spring up in another location (likely extending the formal and informal operations in Montalban), creating another version of Payatas there (already in progress).

And that hurts us all. Quezon City alone spends P1 billion a year to deal with garbage. On top of that, P250 million is wasted every year by operating the dumpsite in this way. This doesn’t include savings that can be made by more energy-efficient means either that require a bigger capital investment but reap long-term rewards.

Environmentally, the Philippines is part of the third largest polluter of plastics in the world, contributing to the giant islands of plastic the size of entire countries swirling around the oceans. Climate change is already hurting this archipelago, vulnerable to natural disasters.

And in terms of our health, Payatas Dumpsite is beside the city’s drinking water supply (La Mesa). Even if we close the dumpsite, a thin layer of grass does not prevent toxic waste of the dumpsite (not sanitary landfill) seeping in. Studies by the Asian Development Bank and Glenn Sia Su found levels of toxins sometimes 20 times higher than ‘safe’ limits affecting water in the area.

So what can we do?

A win-win solution is possible. The first step is involving the community in the decision-making process. Scavengers here have often been scavengers their entire lives, many of since they were young children. They are extremely good at recycling and have a practical experience of the garbage system that few others do. However so far their voices are not being heard, they are not involved in the decision-making. After the trashslide in 2000, local officials relocated hundreds of people to an area they chose and made them worse off doing it. They treated the families as if they were ‘doing them a favour’ (Gaillard & Cadag, 2009). The same research explains officials “provided” a house and lot in an area with no access to education or healthcare or real infrastructure of any kind. In reality they actually crippled the finances of each family with a ‘loan’ of $1,500 at 6% yearly interest, who were now miles away from their source of livelihood and families spiraled into debt. Meanwhile no fundamental change happened in the garbage industry, wasting time and money for every citizen. This is what happens when we don’t listen to a community like this.

Scavengers understand their experience better than anyone else because it is their experience. They understand the reality of the situation better than anyone else and after 6 years here I’ve always been impressed by this. People here want honest, fair work… not handouts.

There is a win-win solution in all of this:

  • Recognise the reality of the situation: give an honest account of how many families will be affected by this.
  • First hear the story from local residents. They are far more knowledgeable and experienced in this issue than the rest of us. Include them in the decision-making process.
  • From this we can create a sustainable plan that solves the problem of current garbage disposal and maintenance, a transparent plan, where it is professionalised. This will assist in the Philippines’ aims of creating a more energy-efficient, sustainable, and affordable future (this is more realistic than you may think).
  • Land titles should be granted in Payatas (they were in the past and a former President revoked them) as part of a package recognising families for their contribution to the city. This package needs to include adequate government services based on the real population count. Currently there’s one part-time doctor for about 10,000 people in one area of Payatas and schools have 60-80 kids in a classroom as an average because many more enroll than population counts suggest.

There are many aspects to this, of course, but a win-win solution is possible. It begins with honest dialogue, a recognition of what is really happening and who will be affected, and hearing from all sides of this story.

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‘Humans of Payatas’ Gives a Glimpse of the Inspiration and Strength of Those in the Slums

Imagine witnessing the death of hundreds of people at once. As a child. This is traumatic enough. But what follows relives the same trauma in different ways. Day after day you struggle to break the glass ceiling; to even get to school, let alone do well in school. And when you do manage to get there you’re hungry, tired, and sleepy. It’s hard-work trying to stay awake and avoid your hunger pangs, let alone study.

Eventually you can’t keep up, grades slip, and it’s just not worth it anymore. You have to work as a child to help find money to feed you and your siblings. You’re stuck in a dead end job from 7 years old. And instead of learning about all the possibilities the world has to offer, you learn how you’re stuck with the life you were born in.

People Learn Helplessness

What stops you here? Not your own effort. Not your own hard-work. At some stage most people realise that there’s nothing they can do about their situation and you learn to stop trying. Because every time you try, and I mean every time, you cannot succeed. I don’t mean you didn’t try enough to succeed, I mean you physically and mentally can not.

Research shows two things are impossible for the brain to move beyond: chronic sound and chronic pain. No mindset, no motivational speeches, and no support can break the negative cycle of this. You have to live with it and it permanently reduces your life potentials. Living in poverty combines both of those. You’re hungry and can’t focus, tired because you couldn’t sleep much the night before – the tiny houses cramped together mean you hear after movement the neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours make. You’re just getting over the latest round of flu that spread through those tiny shacks like wildfire. It creates a cycle known as learned helplessnessI wrote about that for Fairplay before here.

Every single one of us, if we were born in the same situation, would have grown up the same. We would have learned the same. We would act the same.

This is the image of the slums we all know. Desperation, heartbreak, pity. We may not have understood why poor parents have so many kids or why some people have just given up but we all have some impression like this of those living below the poverty line.

Hello From The Other Side

But there’s a side so many of us don’t really see. Having lived in Payatas for 6 years now, one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines, I am privileged to see this every day.

I am entirely driven by a need to understand more of what’s around me. To learn and to understand why something is the way it is or why someone is the way they are. Too often we don’t do the simplest of things when trying to understand someone else. Listen.

This is true in academia too. I recently read a review of related literature on the Psychology of Poverty. It was well written and interesting, but only two or three of the 40 or so studies had actually interviewed and studied poor people. The rest were simulations in a lab.

You miss so much by ignoring the poor. We all see the stories of desperation. We all see the pictures of a decimated  child wasting in the arms of their mother as a charity asks for $2 a month to feed them. But so rarely do we hear anything from the people in the photographs. And when you don’t reach out to people on a genuine level, i.e. listen to them, you miss so much of their strength, their humour, their resilience, their creativity, their inspiration.

We all know the bad, but less of us have seen the good. And that’s why we started Humans of Payatas.  To share these stories. How people find their meaning and their dreams, how people work hard for their families, how people fall in love.

People here in Payatas don’t want someone to swoop in and make their dreams come true. They just want a path so that when they work hard every day, struggle and strive to improve themselves, they aren’t continually blocked by other things, they aren’t continually told there isn’t enough money, enough time, enough people.

People here don’t want handouts. They want justice. They want opportunities. They want what we all deserve.

And our first step to helping them is to listen. It’s to recognise they have something important to say and that we can learn so much from them.

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If you want to help level the playing field then check out http://www.fairplayforall.org and see how you can get involved. 

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Faces of Payatas: Meet Althea (& Why Some of the Best Talents Will Always Come From the Poorest Places)

Lovely story

Fairplay for All Foundation

DSC_1048.JPG Althea (2nd from left) wearing her sister’s National Team jersey, with teammates from Payatas FC U14 girls last year during the Fairplay Pinay Cup.

Everyone loves Rocky. Everyone loves the Karate Kid and the Mighty Ducks. In short, everyone loves an underdog. They’re all feel good stories of a person or team starting from the bottom and struggling against all odds to rise to the top. The triumphant underdog is perhaps the most glorious of all stories.

In Payatas we work with underdogs every day. People who were dealt a bad lot in life and struggle hard even for the most basic of things. Food. A home. Security. People who start from the absolute bottom and are struggling to rise up just one rung on the ladder.

Now we can celebrate another underdog story in the making as Althea, one of our players from Payatas Football Club, has been selected as part of…

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