MANILA, Philippines – How did the Philippines qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup even though football isn't the top sport in the country?
Sayf Ismail, founder of Malaysia-based startup Soca Loca, thinks the Philippines has "all the tickets to success” in the sport even if the football situation in the country seems “unique” from the rest of the region.
"The success of the national team given the little resources was something, from my point of view, very unique," said Ismail. "Football is not the number one sport and yet the achievement is very high."
Last December, the Malaysian entrepreneur swung by the Philippines to watch the Philippines Football League (PFL) final between top teams Ceres-Negros FC and Global Cebu FC at Pana-ad Park and Stadium in Bacolod.
After seeing the Busmen clinch the inaugural title in front of their fans, it prompted Ismail to continue his research on the Philippines, and the data he gathered eventually fell into place with how he wanted his mobile app idea to start.
"I think the unique situation where you have a lot of Filipinos working abroad, having exposure to playing football abroad gives Philippines an added advantage as well," said Ismail of his research.
"The market size is very big, [it has a 106 million] population and I have been told [football games] happen a lot, it's just not recorded, so for us, it’s a very good market to study."
Compared to Malaysia – a country with a rich football history and a 14-year-old pro league – its men's national team has not been successful in the recent years compared to the Philippine Azkals, who made it to the AFF Suzuki Cup semis in 2010 and eventually earned its first Asian Cup berth last March.
"There’s something here (Philippines) that is working and we want to tap on. And I think that the Philippines can be a major player in Asian football," added Ismail.
Only in its second season, the PFL was open to partnering with Soca Loca – a free mobile application that will allow football or futsal teams to match each other for a social kickoff.
By allowing amateurs and young footballers to arrange football matches will not only strenghten the grassroots program, but also pioneer data collection.
"In the Southeast Asia region, we are very young [when it comes to] the development of football. It’s always focused on the elite and national team," said Ismail. "The real effort of Soca Loca is to organize grassroots. This is the problem of grassroots: It is there but we don’t know what’s happening."
By being able to collect data on where most social football games will be happening, Liga Futbol Inc. CEO Lazarus Xavier thinks the mobile app is promising for talent identification and new organized competitions in the Philippines.
"Some countries like Malaysia have amateur-organized football. This is what we want to do in the Philippines moving forward and this application provides us with data which will be invaluable for us to assess, even a potentional amateur league in the future," said Xavier.
Xavier added that the country will host its first tournament made through the application on June 15. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine sports governance, national teams, football, and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.