By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

WHEN FOOTBALL in the country would resume its activities is still to be determined but officials assured that they have started working towards it, eyeing a phased in return.

Gracing “The Crossover” podcast last week, Philippine Football Federation (PFF) President Mariano “Nonong” Araneta shared that they already got the ball rolling for a possible resumption of action, reaching out to various government agencies and seeking guidance on how the football community could resume activities under the “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The PFF chief also said that they are taking cue from how leagues in Europe have dealt with such a situation and able to work to get back to resuming competition.

“[Games and Amusements Board] Chairman Baham Mitra contacted me and said we had to submit a set of protocols for him to submit to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) for consideration,” said Mr. Araneta, who earned another term as PFF president in elections held last year.

“It (protocols) was submitted to the IATF and it is now being reviewed by a group of people. We submitted a 27-pager document and hopefully IATF will allow us, our clubs, to practice. This just for the first phase, which is to practice, the second phase is to play,” he added, underscoring that they utilized FIFA documents as well as those from the World Health Organization to come up with the proper protocols needed.

Mr. Araneta further conveyed that the football community in the country, including clubs playing in the Philippines Football League, is aching for the return of activities but also recognizes that it should be done with utmost safety in mind.

Nonetheless, the PFF is hoping that the football scene in the country amid COVID-19 would go the way of that in some parts of Europe where action has taken off anew.

“Of course, number one that we have to consider is the safety of the players. If it’s not safe for the players, might as well not start it. But it has been shown in other countries that have been worse-hit than the Philippines, they are starting their leagues, they are starting their practice sessions,” Mr. Araneta said, referring particularly to Germany’s Bundesliga, which has resumed competition, and the-about-to-restart LaLiga in Spain.

“And talking about football, we are in an open area, you are talking about 8,000 square meters area of land and only 22 players will play. So it is not a congested area for players and we will do the necessary tests even before the practice sessions, we will install disinfectants and all this safety equipment or whatever, which will allow the players to practice safely… Let us practice then let’s see from there,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in consultation with FIFA, announced the proposed match dates for the remaining matches of Round 2 in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Asian Qualifiers, which were originally scheduled to take place in March and June 2020.

As per the document released by AFC last week, Match Days 7 and 8 are now scheduled to take place on Oct. 8 and 13, 2020 respectively, while Match Days 9 and 10 are due to kick off on Nov. 12 and 17, 2020.

The AFC is hopeful that with the new dates the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 would be finished by November with the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Asian Qualifiers Final Round as well as the playoff matches for the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Round 3 Qualifiers commencing by the March 2021 match dates in line with the FIFA International Calendar.

The proposed new dates for the qualifiers would allow the Philippine men’s national football team, or “Azkals,” to get back on the field.

The Azkals are currently in third spot in Group A of the joint qualifiers with seven points built on a 2-1-2 record.

Syria (5-0-0) is on top of Group A with 15 points, followed by China (2-1-1) with seven.

Maldives (2-0-3) is fourth with six points while Guam (0-0-5) has no points and is already eliminated in the race.

The top teams in the groupings in round two advance to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and earn a spot in the Asian Cup.

The Philippines last faced Syria in the qualifiers in November where it lost, 1-0.