By Malik Riaz Hai Naveed, Founder FootballPakistan.Com
“A businessman with knowledge, right attitude and with fondness for the game has definitely got a lot to offer in this regard”
Since ages Pakistani football fans are eagerly waiting for a professional football league set up in their country. We are used to the “National Football Championship”, or the 3-4 months long Pakistan Premier League involving department teams.
But we are also used to not know whether there is a match tomorrow or not, as there are no announcements or marketing activities with regards to Pakistani football. And especially we are used to not being able to watch the matches of our highest football division live on TV. Has this time come to an end?
Javed Afridi, the owner of PSL team Peshawar Zalmi and the CEO of Haier Pakistan wants to start a franchise football league in Pakistan. In a tweet he said that the talks with various bodies are ongoing for a franchise football league and asked other organisations to come forward to add value to the concept.
A franchise football league may not be the cure to professionalize the football system in our country, but it can be a chance to give much needed attention and of course to bring corporate sponsorships in the domestic sport.
We had the exclusive chance to talk to Javed Afridi about his dreams, ambitions and about whether his kids should join FC Barcelona or Peshawar Zalmi. Read the full interview here:
FPDC: First cricket, now football. Where does your interest in sports come from?
Javed Afridi: I have always been a keen follower of sports since my school days. I used to take active part in sporting activities there and that has translated for me. I have always tried to put my best efforts in for the betterment of sports in the country. Other than football and cricket we have been supporting Hockey, Squash, Combat sports, cycling and even eSports in different capacities.
FPDC: Do you think being a businessman can help professionalize Pakistani football?
JA: A businessman with knowledge, right attitude and with fondness for the game has definitely got a lot to offer in this regard. We need top businessmen in the country to step up their efforts for football in Pakistan. About time they realized that this sector needs to be looked and invested in. I believe the need of the hour is to set up a successful sports economy. Domestic structure of cricket was already there, however through PSL and creating sub brands within cricket we were able to create an industry which helped the sport grow substantially. Players agents, sports agencies, broadcasters, advertising agencies just to name a few all grew with such format.
FPDC: Having studied in the UK, you might have watched the Premier League there too. Do you have a passion for football and which is your favorite club?
JA: I am a huge fan of football and European football in specific. As I spend a lot of time in London, I often visit local games like Selhurst Park at Crystal Palace, Chelsea at Stamford bridge, Arsenal at Emirates stadium. Otherwise Bayern Munich and PSG are great teams as well and have amazing match day experience. Can’t pick a single club but I have been following Liverpool since reading about how Salah has been influential fighting Islamophobia through his performance and character.
FPDC: Tell us about your dreams for Pakistani football. You plan to launch a league. Why?
JA: I have always believed that Pakistan has not only got a rich sports culture but tons of talented sportsmen looking for one good opportunity to show what they are capable of. I’m just trying to help them give a direction to pursue their efforts in and the results will follow. This football league will open several avenues and is a very viable option. End of the day if through our efforts athletes are making enough money to live a decent living this sport will grow automatically. I have seen players in cricket – which is apparently the most commercialised sport – that players are struggling to make ends meet. I can only imagine how difficult things have been for football players for such a long time. Still, better late than never.
FPDC: How should this league look like to make it work?
JA: This league should be a persistent feature. This shouldn’t be a one-off thing or one-month activity like the HBL PSL. Just like the EPL, this should run throughout the year. This will increase the interest of sponsors as well and will encourage the budding footballers to come forward. However, we have been speaking to top consultancy firms globally. The key word is Sustainable. The league needs to survive and grow. We are analysing all key features to evaluate the dynamics of the league.
FPDC: Do you think your experience with Peshawar Zalmi and the PSL will help to organize a football league in Pakistan? What can be the difference/challenge between a cricket league and a football league?
JA: Cricket is the most played sport in Pakistan and comes to the limelight very easily because of the mass audience. However, football is the world’s most played sport and it just needs the right direction in our country. Once we are able to target the right audience and capture its attention, this has the ability to surpass the attention cricket gets here. Zalmi is one of the biggest sports entities in the country. We have achieved that by empowering the right sort of individuals in their concerned specialisation. We aim to do the same in football. We are here to listen, learn, support and empower.
FPDC: We at FPDC have seen many people trying to invest in Pakistani football, but nothing spectacular or long lasting happened so far. How would you want to make your idea more sustainable?
JA: I am already in contact with the relevant sponsors and stakeholders regarding this league. There is a lot of interest from sponsors outside Pakistan in this. They understand the importance of a football league here, acknowledging the talent we have. Once we are able to run this, we’ll be able to show how this can be persisted with throughout the calendar year. We believe that the league needs to be self-sustainable. We could have easily just sponsored a one-off event in football if we were not in this for the long run. However, we have realised that to really promote a sport in such conditions a 360 revamp with professionals.
FPDC: Amid recent interest on social media on a Pak football franchise league, the PFF stated that any proposed nationwide league requires their direct involvement per FIFA laws. Given PFF is the official governing body of football in Pakistan, how do you plan to involve them?
JA: Yes, of course. This goes without saying. We are definitely going to involve the PFF. We were never going to initiate this without the involvement of the governing body. We need their support and we are sure together we can take the game of football to new heights in the country. If anything, we are just doing our homework and bringing a complete support structure on their table once things are stable there.
FPDC: How do you want to make this league economical? No investment without ROI.
JA: Football is something we see being played on the streets, in public parks and even on the roofs. You just need passion to play the sport. I’ve seen kids in KP and Balochistan playing barefoot on the streets and in the mud. We have the best footballs being manufactured in Sialkot, all the right coaching staff and players for this game. These are exciting times for all involved. Once the teams participating in the league become brands the league will become economical itself.
FPDC: If your children have offers of Barcelona FC or Peshawar Zalmi – what career step would you suggest?
JA: My children would have the freedom to choose the sport they are good at and firstly help in Pakistan’s prosperity and serve with gratitude in our country and if they want to excel further and have the opportunity, all doors are open for them to carry the nation’s hopes in Europe and beyond. Wherever they go, they’ll be playing as Pakistan nationals. Pakistan is always first!