PFF is in talks with potential sponsors for the proposed league. -Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is planning a major new football competition modelled on cricket's hugely successful Indian Premier League in a bid to revitalise a sport which has long stagnated.

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is in talks with potential sponsors for the proposed league, which would feature six city-based teams playing each other in Lahore, officials told AFP.

Pakistan has had a “premier league” for the past nine years, but coaches and fans complain of poor standards, awful pitches and walkovers.

Government teams dominate the Pakistan Premier League (PPL), snapping up the best talent with generous sports budgets and leaving private clubs to struggle.

Unsurprisingly, neither fans nor sponsors have much appetite for supporting the likes of current PPL champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), or the evocatively named four-time winners, the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA).

Television coverage is non-existent and crowds for most matches number in the hundreds. Naveed Haider Khan, marketing consultant at the PFF, said the new competition would give football a much-needed shot of razzmatazz.

“We're going to be giving cash incentives, we'll look after their transportation, their accommodation, we'll be trying to project it very heavily on television so people get the insight of what is happening in football,” he said.

Balochistan is the heartland of the game, the only place where crowds of thousands regularly turn up to watch matches, but it is also one of the country's most dangerous regions.
“We want to glamourise this game in Pakistan, we want to run it like the IPL in India with cricket,” he told AFP.

The competition is dependent on sponsors coming forward, but the PFF hopes to run it in May or September, Khan said, and if all goes well there are plans to expand the competition next year – and even try to lure foreign players.

A similar venture in neighbouring Afghanistan last year proved hugely successful, attracting sell-out crowds and big television audiences.

There is little doubt reform is needed. The PFF has set an ambitious goal of qualifying for the World Cup by 2022, but the national team has made little progress since the launch of the premier league in 2004.

Before two recent wins away to Nepal, they were languishing 189th in the FIFA world rankings, just three spots above their lowest-ever placing.

Tariq Lutfi, a former national coach who has led KRL to the premier league title in the last two seasons, said the competition simply does not prepare players for the rigours of the international game.

“It's not good enough. The domestic standard is not matching the international standard and unless and until it does, it is very difficult for Pakistan to progress,” he told AFP.

Ali Ahsan of online fan forum Football Pakistan agreed, describing the standard of the PPL as “much much lower” than the English non-league Conference.

As with so many things in Pakistan, where life is blighted by almost daily shootings and bombings, security is a problem and fears of attacks have led to numerous walkovers, gnawing at the competition's credibility.

Balochistan is the heartland of the game, the only place where crowds of thousands regularly turn up to watch matches, but it is also one of the country's most dangerous regions, beset by sectarian and separatist violence.

The three PPL clubs based in the southwestern province were each awarded four 3-0 walkover wins last season after teams refused to visit.

Rai Saif-ur-Rehman Bhatti, the president of PMC Athletico Faisalabad, a private club relegated from the premier league at the end of last season, said it was unfair.

“If a team gets three walkovers it should actually be out of the league,” he told AFP.

Money is another stumbling block.

Without the mass appeal of cricket, Pakistan's national obsession, football struggles to attract sponsorship and the federation survives largely on grants from FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation.

The PFF general secretary, retired colonel Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, said nearly a quarter of the football budget is spent on the 16-team league, but this amounts to only 13.5 million rupees ($135,000).

To minimise costs, the 240 matches of the PPL are crammed into just five months and former national coach Lutfi said the hectic schedule was taking its toll on players.

“It's ultimately injuries that are the main result of this and teams without a good bench suffer a lot,” he said.

The federation is keen to focus on development. From next season each PPL team will be required to have at least two under-19s players in their squad on match days, Lodhi said, and a series of FIFA-funded academies are due to open this year.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (10)

CricIsFake
March 5, 2013 1:03 am
PFF should focus on spending the resources and energies in developing game in accordance with FIFA guidance rather than getting entangled in such hodge podge ideas which will never produce fruitful results for long term progress. How much of FIFA funding has been spent on developing game at grass root level and on putting an infrasturucture in place for the search and development of talent across the country.Until and unless, club football is promoted and supported, our football will never progress. Till time , we have an infrastructure in place, we should seek cooperation from SAAF and our close friends to help our footballers getting exposure of playing in competitive football leagues. I am also a bit unsure about the myth that we have rich footballing talent which only need search and nurturing. We should seek serious answers as to whether we really possess enough talent which can atleast compete at Asian level.
subhan
March 5, 2013 1:39 am
We couldn't start a cricket league but can start a football league? Why does the media print bogus stories? That we all know are to good to be true.
Asad Niaz
March 4, 2013 5:43 pm
Instead of implementing the IPL model which is designed to last a relatively shorter period of time, why not pursue a model similar to the Barclays Premier League, Serie A, La Liga etc. That would take football in Pakistan to new heights, and provide potential fans with year-round entertainment. This will generate more corporate interest and attract better sponsors. Nonetheless, this is a good initiative taken by the PFF. However, I do feel that the PFF in its entirety is corrupt and has been misusing the funds provided by the gov of Pakistan and FIFA to improve the football structure in the country. The current PPL is a joke, and needs to be scrapped immediately. Private clubs have to be encouraged to set up their own academies. That will result in the maximum utilization of the football talent in our country, and might actually enable us one day to qualify for the World Cup.
Yogesh
March 4, 2013 4:57 pm
You need to have funds to add glamour , where will you get it from ?
Tariq
March 4, 2013 3:10 pm
plz bring us Mourinho (j/k)
Syed Shah
March 5, 2013 2:59 am
I consider it a shame when we describe Baluchistan as the most dangerous place. 54% of the land mass cannot be allowed to remain undeveloped and lawless just because some sardars want it to be so. Let football unite us all. In fact we are united. It is the sardars that do not allow us to be one country and want to block any development so that they can dominate.
azan
March 5, 2013 11:28 am
don't see dreams likes IPL to Pakistan
Akram
March 5, 2013 2:53 pm
the government supported teams need to be replaced by the private sector, its a good idea from the PFF, why has it taken so long to get to this stage? a proper league will create thousands of jobs and a whole industry of its own.
Md Imran
March 5, 2013 3:21 pm
Get ready for Messi wearing a No.10 Lahore FC jersey ! Inshaallah, this should be big and world-class if we can get our acts together. If it succeeds the first 2 season, i see no reason why it shouldn't be as big if not bigger than any of the european soccer leagues.
mamu
March 5, 2013 9:03 pm
USA, China and Arabs etc
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