Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI, Oct 22: A day after the announcement of the Indian Super League, Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider said that the launch of the Pakistan Inter-City League isn’t too far away either.
On Monday, the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) and its commercial partners announced that they had signed up former Arsenal stars Robert Pires and Frederik Ljungberg, along with other semi-retired players to feature in the eight-city team Indian Super League which will be held in January next year.
And although Sardar Naveed told Dawn that the Inter-City League here wouldn’t see stars like Pires or Ljungberg, talks are in the “final stages with a company of international repute” to hold the event next year.
“We’re in advanced-level negotiations with a company of individuals who are involved in sports events management,” he said on Tuesday. “The concept has been agreed upon and its 90 per cent done with the tentative date for the launch set for March next year.”
The league will feature six teams, one from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta with another from Islamabad and Fata. The sixth team will be comprising players from the Northern Areas.
“The aim of the league is to take the game of football to the whole of the country,” Sardar Naveed added. “This has been my biggest dream. It will be the first time that football will be commercialized in the country and we’ll have a professional league.”
He appealed to the country’s corporate sector to come forward and support the initiative.
“None of the top football competitions around the world would’ve been so big if the didn’t have the backing of top sponsors and I appeal to the corporate of sector of Pakistan to support us in making this happen,” he said.
“It is high time that our corporate sector — banks and multinational companies — pay for the youth to play football.”
For the league to be glamourous, foreign players are a must. And Sardar Naveed said that they will come, although there will be humble beginnings on that front.
“We’ve received a good response from players of Ghana and Ivory Coast and we will be inviting more players from Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Malaysia,” he informed.
“Once the tournament takes off and does successfully, bigger names will surely come. The first season will see two foreign players in each squad.”
Also, there will be two U-19 players and two U-16 players in each squad while Sardar Naveed is also looking into the possibility of inviting Pakistan’s foreign-based players for the event.
“The top local-based players will be a part of the teams and I’m hoping we’ll also have the national team’s foreign-based players like Zesh Rehman and Yousuf Butt for the tournament,” he said.
“This is the event we need to mobilize our youth to play football … to channel the talent we have in the country in the right place.
“We’ll also be televising the games and this would give the local football scene a shot of razzmatazz that it needs.”
For the first season, the games will be held in Lahore but Sardar Naveed hopes that they can take matches of the league to venues all over the country.
“With foreign players participating in the league, we’ll need to ensure good security for now and hopefully if the situation improves, we’ll play some games in Karachi as well.”
For now, the league will run side-by-side with the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) but plans for expanding the league will continue in the next few years. “We’ll look to expand the league and add more teams maybe after the first season,” Sardar Naveed said.
PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat, meanwhile, said that the event will bring a footballing revolution in the country.
“This is a great initiative and I’m very excited about its launch,” Faisal told Dawn. “This will help us glamourise the sport in Pakistan.”
Across the border, the Indian Super League will see eight franchises battle it out in a three-month event with the tournament set to follow the blue-print of the highly popular cricket’s Indian Premier League. Like the IPL, clubs will bid for the services of players next month.