The two-week season: coronavirus shrinks Philippines football league

·2 min read
The Philippines Football League kicked off on Wednesday
The Philippines Football League kicked off on Wednesday

In a year of coronavirus chaos for sports, the Philippines Football League has come up with an extreme solution: shortening the competition to just two weeks, with each team playing only once.

The league, postponed since March, kicked off behind closed doors on Wednesday in a bio-secure "bubble" at the National Training Center, 40km (25 miles) south of the capital Manila.

United City were 1-0 winners against the Azkals Development Team, and Kaya FC Iloilo beat Maharlika Manila by the same scoreline as the league, delayed anew by a batch of positive tests and an incoming typhoon, finally got underway.

The unusual format of the competition, broadcast on social media and finishing on November 12, means the six teams have just one chance for a shot at the title, turning every game into a de facto final. 

National team manager Don Palami said the streamlining is down to financial reasons with all officials, staff and players staying in hotels and then transported to games.

"It entails a lot of logistical work and financial requirements that the PFL, at this point in time, cannot meet," Palami told AFP.

Under normal conditions, each team would play the others four times but the effects of Covid-19 have made that impossible. The Philippines has been hit hard by the virus, with more than 375,000 confirmed infections and over 7,000 deaths. 

"There is little money coming in but costs have sky-rocketed," Palami said.

"All teams are in one hotel, swab tests are being done regularly and there are the usual expenses that are not usually covered by the PFL that now it has to cover."

Despite the unusual format, the PFL asked teams and sponsors whether they wanted to go ahead with the shortened season and the answer was a resounding 'yes'.

"Everybody wants to have games," said Palami. "We owe it to the sponsors that are still involved, the players and the fans. They were all eager to have a league, no matter how short."

It remains to be seen what will happen in 2021 -- but a coronavirus vaccine would be helpful, Palami said.

"The PFL wants a full schedule and more teams," he said. "They will wait for a vaccine before scheduling. Hopefully, it will come soon."

str/th