The grand unveiling of the Pakistan Football League (PFL) on June 4 has received an added kick to it as Spanish giants Club Atletico de Madrid have been invited to attend its launch.

The club’s first foray into Pakistani territory came from 2016 to 2020 when it launched its International Academy Project in Lahore as part of its international expansion plan, according to a press release issued by the PFL, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com.

The manager of the the Atletico de Madrid Academy’s Internationalization Unit, Adolfo Guerrero Gunther, said the Academy was thrilled to have been invited to PFL’s unveiling and to be back in Pakistan.

“It is a huge market full of opportunities, where we wish to explore different possibilities to develop the Academy programmes, thanks to the PFL and Golden Ball Global,” the press release quoted Gunther as saying.

Members of the Academy will tour Pakistan from June 3 to 5, beginning in Islamabad and culminating in Karachi.

According to the press release, the visit foresees a series of high profile meetings scheduled with top brass officials, fandom engagements in malls and schools, grassroots in Kakri Football Stadium in Lyari to celebrate a football carnival, recognising the unsung heroes of Pakistan’s football and the epic unveil of franchise teams, the press release said.

It added that the PFL’s objective is to “sensationalise football in a country of 250 million population, and to serve the long enduring appetite of the football loving nation.

“The all new franchise football league is set to create a new sports economy which will create the very first inter-city rivalry in Pakistan.

“With over 63 million football fans, 3.4 million registered professional football players and the government playing an anchor role, PFL is to kick off the world’s most popular sport in Pakistan,” the press release said.

The Academy has successfully launched in over 40 countries with various development programs for coaches and young players to be trained by sporting professionals from the Academy.

PFL’s Director of Communications, Melanie Grace, said: “we are privileged to have Atletico de Madrid Academy among our guests and look forward to find opportunities to cooperate in the Pakistan thanks to the successful sports and educational programmes promoted by the Academy.”

But football giants in Pakistan are at loggerheads with each other as the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee (PFF NC) termed the franchise-based PFL, backed by former England star Michael Owen, an “illegal event”.

The Haroon Malik-led PFF NC, appointed by global football body FIFA, said in a statement on Friday that the PFL was not sanctioned by it.

“The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has categorically stated that the franchise-based Pakistan Football League (PFL), which is claimed to be held in the next month, is an illegal event as per its statutes and has not sanctioned by the federation,” the PFF NC stated.

“The PFF is the sole governing body for football in Pakistan duly affiliated with FIFA and the AFC. The PFF’s authority is reinforced by the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) vide its letter dated September 9, 2014 according to which the government only engages with national sports federations recognised by their respective international bodies.

“Participating in, organizing, or supporting any football event not sanctioned by the PFF is a clear violation of Article 82 of the PFF constitution and could lead to disciplinary measures. Furthermore, the PFF emphasises that it encourages any project aimed at genuine football development in the country, provided it is duly approved by the federation.”

The PFF NC’s statement came a day after British newspaper The Sun revealed that Owen will be joined by his former Liverpool and England strike partner Emile Heskey during the launch events in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi next month.

The PFL has announced Nov 1 as the starting date for its competition. Its claims of partnerships were denied by the English Premier League and its clubs.

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