KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee might have quashed some ambitious plans.

The FIFA-appointed committee announced clearly, and rightly so, on Wednesday that any franchise or national league in the country can only be held by the PFF.

The PFF also warned that any entity trying to organise a league without the patronage from the country’s football governing body will be sanctioned.

“Recently various quarters have made statements in the media/social media about running/starting franchise leagues and/or a women’s national league,” the PFF Normalisation Committee said in a notification.

“Given that PFF is the governing body of Pakistan football (as recognised by FIFA/AFC), any national league (franchise or otherwise) can only be hosted by the PFF.

“Therefore, no league can be conducted by any entity other than PFF. If any entity tries to conduct such a league, the same will be illegal and sanctions will follow.”

Last week Javed Afridi, the owner of the Peshawar Zalmi franchise in cricket’s wildly popular Pakistan Super League, tweeted that he was working towards starting a franchise football league in the country.

“Successfully conducted various meetings with global football entities including brands, players and investment groups to start a franchise model football league in Pakistan,” he wrote in the tweet.

Others including Shahid Shinwari – a former footballer – has also spoken of organising a franchise league.

Javed clarified on Wednesday that any franchise league in the country will be held through the PFF.

“Any national-level tournament cannot of course be held without the PFF,” he told Dawn. “We plan to have meetings with the PFF in the coming days to sort out the matter.”

There however remain questions about the sustainability of a franchise league on similar lines as the month-long PSL. Or, about how it will contribute to the development of football in the country.

A global model of leagues with clubs participating has shown to have the greatest contribution towards football development. Clubs are closer to the community, having youth academies and age-group teams in a proper tier-wise structure. They also contribute to the footballing infrastructure in a country.

The only two countries where their elite leagues comprise franchises are the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States and the A-League in Australia. Both run for at least eight months.

In India the Indian Super League (ISL), launched with much fanfare in 2014, is on a five-year path to become the country’s top league after merging with the I-League.

It’s hard to see something like that working in Pakistan. Franchise owners will also demand more eyeballs and, like ISL, they would want participation in continental competitions organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It would inevitably put them on a collision course with the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) sides.

Pakistan football can ill-afford more turmoil in its leagues with nearly half of the last decade mired in crisis and controversy due to infighting in the PFF, which forced global football body FIFA to appoint a Normalisation Committee to oversee the affairs of the game.

Asked about his plan, Javed was questioned about whether it wouldn’t be better for him to rather ask the investors he’s been in talks with to invest long-term in clubs.

However, he claims that his plan is more sustainable and he can guarantee long-term investment, although he said he wouldn’t comment right now on the time frame for the league he’s planning for.

“Football has more following among the country’s elite, the cream,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we can surprise the industry in Pakistan since many global brands are attached to football.”

He hinted at working towards public-private partnerships that will see franchises contributing to the infrastructure and football development in their respective regions.

In a recent interview with Dawn, AFC technical director Andy Roxburgh — one of the authorities in football development in the world — said that he wasn’t averse to a franchise league but said it had to be on similar lines like the MLS.

“There are arguments for both [forms of leagues],” Roxburgh. “The MLS franchise system in the US has been a big success. The traditional leagues, on the other hand, use promotion and relegation, and many think that is the life-blood of the pro game.”

Going by Roxburgh’s idea of how a franchise league should be, it’s hard to see investors in Pakistan put in money for an eight-month league with unsure returns.

Javed is the latest sports official in the country to raise the idea of a franchise football league. Over the last several years, many other have come up with plans but none them have materialised.

But the Zalmi owner said he isn’t giving up on his idea. “I’m very attached and committed to this project,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that if the PFF matters remain fine, we’ll be able to work together and get this project off and running.”

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020

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