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Originally published by ABS-CBN News

Sponsors and stakeholders are being urged to “ride the wave of success” and elevate the domestic league for women in the wake of the recent triumphs of the Philippine women’s national football team.

The Filipinas are the toast of the town after their historic run in the 2022 AFF Women’s Championship, where they emerged as champions for the first time ever. A comprehensive 3-0 triumph over Thailand in Sunday’s final sealed the Filipinas’ spot at the top of Southeast Asian football.

While plans are underway for the Filipinas as they continue their progress towards next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the players are also hopeful that more attention will be paid to the domestic league as well as the grassroots level.

“Now, I think, is the best time to ride this wave of success for the national team, for the women’s team,” said veteran midfielder Camille Rodriguez during Tuesday’s Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum.

Rodriguez, together with goalkeeper Inna Palacios and center back Hali Long, stressed the importance of having a strong domestic league in continuing the growth of the sport in the country.

The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) has previously announced that they want to revive the PFF Women’s League (PFFWL), which has been on hiatus for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition was last held in 2020.

“I think the gap between international football and what we have here in the Philippines is quite far at the moment. The only way we can bridge that is by playing more games, para mas tumaas ‘yung level dito,” said Palacios, a former standout for De La Salle University who now has over 50 caps for the national team.

“And, malay mo, that can also be a venue where our coaches could scout, or future players could be found. It’s so important that there’s always an opportunity for people to play here, because it’s the only way the sport will grow — to have people continuously playing, year in, year out, every month, every weekend,” she added.

Long, who earned her 61st cap against Thailand, said the exposure that players will get in the domestic league will be helpful for those who hope to get collegiate scholarships. In this regard, the PFFWL will benefit not just the national team but other levels of football as well.

“It’s not just to get girls through all the way up to the national team. That’s like the highest you can go here. But it’s for girls to get scholarships, for them to have a lot more opportunities in the sports community and the working community. It could be everything for someone,” said Long.

Long, Palacios and Rodriguez are all affiliated with Kaya FC, and the Filipino-American defender is hoping that more clubs in the Philippines Football League (PFL) will also invest in a women’s team.

“If there’s a women’s league, maybe the UCFC [United City FC], Cebu, and all of those other PFL teams could make a women’s team and have stipends for allowance, budgeting allowances for girls. That also opens up coaching opportunities and therefore staffing and refereeing,” she suggested.

Rodriguez, who played collegiate football for the Ateneo de Manila University, acknowledged the difficulty of putting up a league but also believes that stakeholders and sponsors should seize the opportunity presented to them.

The profile of women’s football has steadily grown this year, thanks to the Filipinas’ exploits at the international stage. In February, they reached the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 to qualify for next year’s World Cup. In May, they won bronze in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

And in front of over 8,000 fans at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium last month, they lifted their first ever international trophy.

“I believe that now is a good opportunity to do it,” said Rodriguez. “It’s going to be hard but it’s going to be worth it in the end, for the stakeholders, for players, for the PFF and football in general.”

PFF president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta assured that they are working on getting the league off the ground again after a prolonged break, and revealed that there is renewed interest from possible sponsors already.

“As what they said, we have to strike the iron while it’s hot, so we have to talk to sponsors and other stakeholders who are interested to help develop women’s football more, and also develop our grassroots,” said Araneta.

“There have been some interest from a lot of companies now,” he added.