by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: It won’t be a yearly event but a biennial one. At least the years of discussion and planning have not gone to waste and the SAFF Club Cup will finally kick off from 2018.
“It took time for us to come to a final decision but our members have finally agreed to hold the tournament,” South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) president Kazi Salahuddin told Dawn in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
The Club Cup is the brainchild of Kazi, who has been trying to convince the South Asian football associations to hold the tournament for its champion teams.
Originally scheduled to be held in 2011, the tournament has been hit by delays ever since.
But Kazi, who is also the president of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), is convinced that there will be no more delays after the SAFF members met during the AFC Extraordinary Congress in Goa, India last week to decide the final date.
“We will hold it in December 2018,” he said while speaking on the phone from the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. “That’s the slot we have available at the moment.
“The domestic champions from each SAFF member association will take part with the hosts having a chance to field a second team. Thus, it will be an eight-team tournament.”
There were reports that the inaugural edition of the Club Cup would be held later this year after the SAFF Executive Committee meeting in Negombo, Sri Lanka in August.
“We did look into the possibility of holding it this year in Bangladesh but there wasn’t much time for us to get the logistics in place,” Kazi informed.
Holding the Club Cup once every two years, however, means there will be an issue over the participating teams.
In those two years, each country will have two league winners – and with the Club Cup being held on an even-numbered year, the teams that win their domestic competitions in the odd-numbered years will miss out on participation.
Kazi acknowledged that it was “an issue at the moment” but there was little he could do to hold the tournament each year.
“We have financial constraints [which makes us dependent on our sponsors] and other issues regarding the calendar for our member associations so at this point in time, this is the only solution for us,” he explained.
“We have our showpiece tournament, the SAFF Suzuki Cup [a biennial tournament for national teams of the region] which we hold in December on every odd-numbered year.
“So the sponsor asked us to have one tournament each year, meaning we will now have a tournament one year for our clubs and the other year for the national teams.
“Since the SAFF Championship is taking place in Bangladesh in December 2017, we decided to hold the Club Cup the following year.”
Holding the Club Cup in December also means India, the biggest footballing country of the region, can participate.
One of the reasons for the delays in the tournament taking off was because of India’s refusal to find a place for it in its busy calendar.
“The matter with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been resolved,” said Kazi.
“They do have a busy calendar with the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) but they’ve told us that they have space in December each year.”
In a previous interview with Dawn, in November 2014, Kazi had said that the best time to hold the tournament was in August, with “the domestic leagues in the region running at different times”.
The BFF did organise a very successful club tournament in October last year, the Sheikh Kamal Club Cup.
Pakistan Premier League (PPFL) champions K-Electric were one of eight participants in the tournament which also saw Indian sides East Bengal and Mohammedan SC Kolkata, Sri Lanka’s Solid FC, Afghan champions De Spinghar Bazan and Bangladesh’s Dhaka Abahani, Chittagong Abahani and Mohammedan SC Dhaka compete.
There were reports that the tournament organisers were looking to make the Sheikh Kamal Cup a yearly fixture, something Kazi hopes the SAFF Club Cup will eventually become.
“At this moment we need a start and once the SAFF Club Cup gains in popularity, we can look at taking it forward,” Kazi concluded.