$.4-M windfall from Blatter
- Joaquin M. Henson () - December 11, 2007 - 12:00am

FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) president Joseph Blatter of Switzerland announced an early Christmas present of $400,000 for the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) in the highlight of a gala dinner celebration of the sport’s 100th anniversary in the country at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel the other night.

Blatter, 71, was in town for an overnight visit with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed Bin Hammam of Qatar and a traveling staff of six from the FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Speaking before over 500 guests in a P2,500-a-plate fund-raising event, Blatter called football “the game of the people” as he encouraged more Filipinos to play the game where there are no distinctions of race, culture, religion, social class and physical attributes.

“Football is the most intelligent team sport in the world,” said Blatter, the eighth FIFA president since the organization was founded in Paris in 1904. “It requires a big surface, has 11 players against 11 players sharing one ball with no timeouts. It’s the game for everybody.”

The $400,000 donation is FIFA’s third cash top-up for the PFF aside from its usual subsidy of $250,000 a year.  FIFA doles out $1 million every four years to each of its 208 member countries aside from grants under the “goals” program.

Immediate past PFF president Johnny Romualdez said the first $400,000 donation was for the construction of a training center in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, and five administration buildings in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, Zamboanga City, Bago City, Negros Occidental, Cagayan de Oro and Los Baños, Laguna. The second donation was for the construction of a three-story PFF building, called the House of Football, in Pasig to be inaugurated next month.

Romualdez said newly elected PFF president Jose Mari Martinez will decide with the Board how to use the third donation. Infrastructure is a key priority and a likely option is to lay out a world-class artificial turf in a venue which the PFF can use exclusively and a semi-pro league can call its home. 

“FIFA money for local tournaments is out of the question,” said Romualdez. “It’s important that we acquire and maintain a field of international standards. A semi-pro league is a missing component in our program. Without a league, there is no crowd. Without a crowd, there are no stars. Without TV, there is no crowd. Without a league where our best players can play 30 to 40 matches a year, there can never be a strong national team.”

Blatter said he was touched by Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled president Mike Barredo’s appeal to include participation of his sector in the 2010 World Cup. Barredo, a former national football player, lost his eyesight in an accident. Blatter also paid tribute to the late PFF secretary-general Chris Monfort, who was killed in a car mishap, and 85-year-old former FIFA referee Fernando Alvarez, a Filipino now based in San Francisco.

Martinez laid out the red carpet for Blatter and vowed to bring Philippine football back on its feet with the support of the 32 provincial associations. “Mr. Blatter’s visit will inspire us to do more for football than ever before,” he said.

Former Rep. Charlie Cojuangco, the Negros Occidental Football Association president, described Blatter as “a good example of what an international politician should be in form and substance.” He added, “Mr. Blatter is essential at this time not only for his leadership but also for his passion for football.”

For his part, Hammam urged the PFF “to restructure the game, clubs, leagues and district associations” in the campaign to make football the No. 1 sport in the country, guaranteeing support from FIFA and AFC in the effort. “The future is Asia ,” said Hamman. “It’s a mandate that we are tasked to do.” 

Hammam said the AFC was formed in Manila on May 8, 1954 – his birthday, which is why the Philippines is close to his heart. He credited Blatter for football’s progress as a business and industry. From 2003 to 2006, FIFA earned a net profit of $144 million from revenues of $1.64 billion.

To cap the gala celebration, Blatter and Martinez handed out centennial awards for milestone contributions in the history of Philippine football. The awardees were Nomads, Lions, Blue Guards and the Cheng Hua Tigers (team category), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, University of Santo Tomas, San Beda and Ateneo (outstanding institutions), Sy Peng Sam and Juan Cutillas (outstanding coaches), Alvarez (outstanding referee), Menchu Genato-Henson (outstanding women’s football), Paulino Alcantara (outstanding player, pre-war), Eddie Pacheco (outstanding player, post-war), Lino Castillejo (outstanding volunteerism) and former PFF presidents Rene Adad (for the Coke Go For Goal project) and Romualdez (for the Kasibulan under-19 and 6-12 programs).

The late Alcantara was represented by his great grandnephew Ambassador Juan Rocha. Alcantara, a Filipino-Spanish mestizo from Iloilo, saw action for the Philippine team in 1916-18 and FC Barcelona up to 1927. He is the only Filipino ever to play for a European club and remains Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer.

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