part THREE of my football story: stepping back from the abyss of azkal mania

created by Ryan Azarcon - LOC (PHL vs SRI) Head of Marketing and Corporate Relations

April – May, 2011: The Road to WCQ

The first round draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Asian Qualifiers (WCQ) was held in Kuala Lumpur on March 30th of this year. The Philippines had drawn Sri Lanka in the first round. This was going to be the first time that the Philippines had entered the FIFA World Cup Qualification process in over 10 years. Our last experience was the attempt to qualify for the 2002 World Cup which was jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. That campaign was a disaster.

The format was different then. The Philippines played in a double round robin elimination group. Our team was in a group which included Oman, Syria and Laos. Our team ended up losing 5 of 6 games with the other game ending in a draw. We scored a total of 2 goals while conceding 29.  This included a 12-0 beating that our team absorbed courtesy of Syria. For some reason, the Philippines had to play both of their matches against Syria in Syria and both of their matches against Oman in Oman. The only home match that was played was the one against Laos which ended in a 1-1 draw.

After drawing Sri Lanka, we were fairly confident that we were going to do well. I wrote about this in this post – philippine football, the azkals & understanding how far we have come & how far we still have to go. The first leg held in Colombo did not go as we had expected. Playing under poor pitch conditions, our team could only manage a draw.

But back to our own preparations – three candidates were discussed for hosting. This included Laguna, Panaad Stadium in Bacolod and Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila. The choice of Rizal was premised on this – from the time the Azkals burst into the scene with their upset of Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup on December 5th, 2010 they had not yet played in the country’s capital. The thinking was that the team had to be exposed on a bigger stage. Panaad in Bacolod had already hosted the Azkals in their match against Mongolia in the Challenge Cup preliminaries. A FIFA rule requiring that a playing venue be within a 1-hour drive of an international-level airport made Laguna’s bid less compelling.

I was really at the periphery of the decision-making process in these early days.  I was focusing on an assessment of the financial controls and procedures of the PFF for most of April. While the assessment itself was done quickly, I had to prepare my recommendations and formalize this in a manual containing financial control principles to be adopted by the PFF as well as the practical procedural flow that would lead to the application of these principles. All these I presented to the PFF Board of Governors (BOG) in its meeting in Davao on April 30, 2011. The BOG approved these policies and procedures.

What received more scrutiny were my own formal appointment as PFF Treasurer and a Finance Committee request for approval for cash management authority to be given to the Treasurer with the concurrence of the Finance Committee chairman. For the most part, the scrutiny was borne of the BOG’s experience with the previous Treasurer. To a large degree, the recommendation for my appointment was given an immeasurable boost when Dan Palami made an unexpected (but heartfelt) speech sponsoring the recommendation. Dan and I barely knew each other at this point. So I was pleasantly surprised by this gesture. What also turned the tide (I think anyway) was when members of the BOG were made aware that I had insisted (well MVP insisted :-)) that I not receive compensation while serving as PFF Treasurer.

The other contentious point was our request to be given authority to utilize specified and limited financial instruments (time deposits, special depository accounts, special savings accounts and money market accounts) to manage the excess cash of the PFF. We had also specified that these transactions would only be conducted with the PFF’s existing depositary banks. In the private sector, these are part and parcel of what are known as Treasury operations. The end is to use these higher-yielding instruments to park idle PFF funds to get marginally higher returns than would be possible by having these sit in checking accounts and/or savings accounts. We had purposely presented the specifics of these transactions including the instruments, the procedures, the control mechanisms and the approving authorities in view of the recent experiences of the PFF with financial improprieties. Despite this (and credit goes to the PFF BOG), we were extensively grilled by the Governors. Again, Dan Palami came out in support of the proposal by validating my position that these transactions were part of normal and sound business practices. Ironically, we were never able to utilize these instruments during the course of the year as our resource generation operations, for the most part, mirrored our budgetary needs.

Preparations as well as the conduct of the Suzuki Cup Under-23 National Championships, the Under-19 Championships and the Smart Club Championships also taxed the lean PFF manpower to an extent that preparations for the WCQ home leg started later than what would have been ideal. These national level tournaments were the first ones that the PFF had undertaken after coming out of the “dark days” of the sport in the country. The logistical requirements are massive and having all three going on at the same time is an experience that the PFF does not intend to replicate. Going forward, these tournaments will be spread out over the course of the year. Our experiences with these from an organizational perspective was one of the objects of this article – beyond the azkals: the way forward for pilipinas futbol (the view behind the scenes).

We eventually got down to the business of preparing for the WCQ on Friday the 13th in May of this year. Nonong had asked me to attend a meeting at the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) offices at Rizal. My presence was required to assess the financial dimensions of hosting this match against Sri Lanka. Present at the meeting were Nonong, Dan Palami, PSC Commissioner Chito Loyzaga and AFC/FIFA Match Commissioner Cathy Rivilla.

Commissioner Loyzaga is the commissioner in charge of all the facilities owned and operated by the PSC. Cathy had been an AFC Match Commissioner of the year and her experience was going to be invaluable in the preparations and conduct of the match.

We immediately buckled down to work and focused on the need to refurbish Rizal. The most tedious and time-consuming task was going to be the removal and replacement of the existing wooden benches that served as grandstand seating at the Stadium. Many of these were already disintegrating and would have posed a safety risk if not replaced. These were to be replaced by fiberglass seats. The supplier originally proposed providing a fixed number of seats. I argued that the PFF would only pay for seats actually installed. While PSC personnel had pulled out the dimensions of the grandstand and calculated the number of seats, my concern was that until we had actually started the process of installing the seats and experienced the proposed seat spacing we were not going to know how many seats were actually going to be installed. These seats were not cheap – P700 each for those without seat backs and P1,200 for those with seat backs. An inch here or an inch there in terms of the seat spacing could mean several hundred thousand pesos. I did not want the PFF locked into buying a fixed number of seats only to find out that we did not need all of them. To the supplier’s credit, they quickly saw the logic of this and agreed to the flexible contract. We shook on this pending the drafting of the formal contract.

The next step was the choice of who was going to head the PFF’s Local Organizing Committee (LOC). The PFF follows protocols which include the establishment of an LOC for all tournaments whether international or domestic. Typically, the LOC is headed by a General Coordinator (GC). Given the magnitude of this event, however, it was decided that there needed to be a Chairman to head the LOC.

Organizationally, the LOC Chairman functions like a Chief Executive Officer or CEO in the private sector. The GC, on the other hand, functions like a Chief Operating Officer or COO. The LOC is, in turn, composed of various sub-committees which are functional in nature  with specific responsibilities relating to a tournament or match.

The appointment of the LOC Chairman (or GC, in cases where there is no Chairman) is the sole prerogative of the PFF President in the exercise of his administrative duties. He may consult with whomever he believes will have relative inputs to the choice. For this WCQ, the decision was made after the PSC meeting.

As Nonong, Dan and I were discussing possibilities, we realized that this was not going to be an easy decision. Experience counts a lot but in the new PFF, consideration is also given to having a private sector corporate background. Given that our last WCQ match hosting was in 2001, we did not really have recent experience.

After 30 minutes of back and forth, Dan asked me if I would consider it. Because I had not considered myself a candidate, I had not thought this possibility through. Caught by surprise, I hemmed and I hawed. Given the proper resources, I felt confident that this task could be done but by someone else. I knew I was going to be part of this but as a fund raiser and as a fiscalizer in the use of financial resources. Rather than having this conversation continue aimlessly, I asked Nonong and Dan for time to sleep over this before giving them an answer.

My main worry was my ability to be able to commit the time which I knew was going to be needed to see this through. I knew then that if I accepted the appointment, this was going to take over my life for the next month and a half and maybe longer. On the other hand, while I thought that there were other people who were perfectly capable of doing this it would take time to find them and bring many of them up to speed and decisions had to be made yesterday. Then again, if someone else did this and it didn’t turn out well – I would have never lived it down.

One good thing about Manila traffic is that if you choose to do so, it offers the perfect environment to think. There is not much you can do when you are moving at 5-10 kilometers per hour in Friday night rush hour. On this night (a payday night as well), it took me 90 minutes to get from Rizal to Legaspi Village in Makati. Before I got home, I had made up my mind and called Nonong and then Dan to accept.

To be continued…



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