Pakistan unveils new football league after 5-year wait

Thursday, June 6th, 2024 15:07 | By
Michael Owen in a past visit to Pakistan. PHOTO/DW
Michael Owen in a past visit to Pakistan. PHOTO/DW

The Pakistan Football League has been unveiled, a new franchise-based competition that has former England star Michael Owen as its ambassador. The move follows years of infighting in the country’s football scene.

There has been no official football league in Pakistan since 2019 due to various FIFA suspensions and political infighting but that is set to change. The Pakistan Football League (PFL) was unveiled this week in Islamabad. The new men's competition, set to kick off in November, is not only different because it is franchise-based - it is also headed by Michael Owen.

The former Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Manchester United striker is the PFL's global ambassador. 

Michael Owen meets Pakistan Governor kamran Tessori. PHOTO/@faisalfarooqi/X
Michael Owen meets Pakistan Governor kamran Tessori. PHOTO/@faisalfarooqi/X

Owen, who first went to Pakistan in 2021, believes the only way is up. As well as no regular league, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has no president and the men's national team is ranked 195 in the world.

"I could see first-hand there are plenty of players with the potential to become professional footballers," Owen told DW. "That's why a consistently high standard of organized training and competitive matches is key. I believe that the Pakistan Football League will provide a real opportunity for players to reach their full potential.”

A poster promoting Pakistan football. PHOTO/@pfl_pk/X
A poster promoting Pakistan football. PHOTO/@pfl_pk/X

Previously, Owen visited the country as the ambassador of Global Soccer Ventures, a UK-based company that aimed to launch a new league in 2022 but shelved plans amid the uncertain political situation in Pakistan. Now rebranded as PFL, backers believe the time is now right.

The potential in Pakistan remains, with a population of 260 million and links to FIFA since 1948.

"Pakistan is a nation with a real passion for the game and whilst many will say that cricket is the country's main sport, the fact that there are 3.4 million registered footballers in Pakistan tells you just how popular the game is," Owen added.

"I am very keen to try to help improve the existing infrastructure."

Owen's toughest challenge

Usually, that would be the job of the PFF, but the organization has been under the control of a Normalization Committee (NC) since 2019. The committee was trying to organize new elections.

But in March 2021, a group of PFF officials stormed the PFF building in Lahore and tried to wrestle power back, resulting in FIFA suspending Pakistan from international football. The ban lasted 15 months. The NC is still in control.

The question is whether a new franchise league headed by famous ex-footballers can now bring about real change.

"Fans are divided over the venture," Umaid Wasim, sports editor of Pakistani national newspaper Dawn, told DW.

"For some, it's a chance for domestic football to make a long-awaited return along with the glitz and glamour it will bring. For others, a franchise league isn't what they want. Rather, they want a proper club-based league."

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