Umaid Wasim – DAWN
ISLAMABAD: South Asia is set to have its own Champions League next year.
South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) president Kazi Salahuddin on Thursday said he hopes to hold the inaugural edition of the SAFF Club Championship next year. “Once I have all the modalities set, I hope to launch it in 2015,” Kazi, also the head of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) told Dawn in an interview here.
Speaking on the sidelines of the SAFF Women’s Championship currently underway in the capital, he said that his idea is to have the club competition on the lines of the UEFA Champions League. “The idea is to have it modelled on the European Cup,” he said. “We might not have facilities as Europe has but it can start slowly.”
“We can have the first edition in one country where all the top club sides from SAFF members will participate and then we can expand the idea and have home and away matches.”
One of the problems in the initiation of the championship has been the timing of the tournament. “Different leagues in the region run at different times and that’s where we find a problem of accommodating the championship in the calendar,” Kazi said. “But after a lot of deliberation, I’ve come to a conclusion that August will be the best time to hold the event.”
Another problem is the lack of Indian interest in the league. The SAFF Club Championship was first time set to be held in 2011 but three years on, India’s refusal to find a place for the tournament in the calendar has proved to be a major hurdle.
Now, India has its glamorous Indian Super League (ISL) which has attracted the likes of former stars like Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Nicolas Anelka and Robert Pires.
“The ISL wouldn’t be, and shouldn’t be a problem for the SAFF Club Championship,” Kazi said. “But I promise that the Club Championship will go on whether India is part of it or not.”
Kazi believes the regional club event will boost football in South Asia. “It will give us knowledge of what other countries in the regions are doing,” he said. “After SAFF, we can invite ASEAN countries to it, thus expanding the exposure for the teams and bridging the footballing gap in the region.”
Kazi, however, emphasised that the SAFF countries have to act now for the growth of the game. “It is imperative that we start the SAFF Club Championship as soon as we can otherwise we’ll keep lagging behind the rest of Asia and the gap might then become too big to bridge,” he warned.
Published in Dawn, November 21th, 2014