Opposition rises from within to Ashfaq-led PFF’s plan of holding franchise league [Dawn]

Opposition rises from within to Ashfaq-led PFF’s plan of holding franchise league [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: Ashfaq Hussain Shah says he’s keeping his word. Sardar Naveed Haider Khan says the plan to give rights to a company to hold the Pakistan Football League is a ‘15-year sellout’.

The court-elected Pakistan Football Federation president Ashfaq and his vice-president Naveed, who are not recognised by FIFA and whose takeover of the PFF headquarters in March saw Pakistan suspended by the global football body, seem to be at loggerheads regarding the latest plan for a franchise football league in the country.

“I cannot be part of such a sellout,” Naveed told Dawn on Saturday. “I will oppose the holding of this. There are serious concerns with this project.”

Ashfaq, meanwhile, said he was only sealing a deal that was supposed to be completed back in 2019.

Then, months after coming into power following an election held by the Supreme Court in December 2018, Ashfaq was about to enter an agreement with UK-based TouchSky Global to sponsor and market Pakistan’s domestic football tournaments which would in turn see the PFF partnering with them for a franchise league.

That agreement never came to fruition as Ashfaq handed over the PFF headquarters to the PFF Normalisation Committee, appointed by FIFA in September 2019 to hold fresh elections of the country’s football governing body. TouchSky tried to hold talks with the PFF NC to seal the deal but were rebuffed.

Two years on, Ashfaq is back, having taken over the PFF headquarters from the NC, citing a failure of the FIFA-appointed committee to hold elections in 18 months since it took over. TouchSky is no more but the company behind the PFL plan is Global Soccer Ventures Pvt Limited.

Same people, different name? “I’ve been in talks with the group for several years,” added Ashfaq. “They were willing to spend money on Pakistan football then, they’re willing to spend money now.”

Global Soccer Ventures was incorporated on March 29 this year, just two days after Ashfaq’s group of officials took over the PFF headquarters, and is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Its CEO is former K-Electric sports manager Zabe Khan, who has worked with TouchSky on football projects in the past.

“It’s the same group but it’s now led by Zabe,” Ashfaq informed. “My aim for long was to hold a football league on similar lines to cricket’s Pakistan Super League and now we’re about to do it.

“The PFL plan was given during our emergency committee meeting as well as the executive committee meeting, where we were all in agreement to hold this,” said Ashfaq, when asked about Naveed’s resentment. “We’re entering a 15-year deal but there will be an assessment after five years.”

The model proposed by Global Soccer Ventures seems to be similar to the one in neighbouring India, where IMG-Reliance secured all commercial rights to tournaments organised by the All Indian Football Federation for 15 years in 2010 and oversaw to the launch of the Indian Super League four years later.

The ISL has since taken over the I-League as India’s top league competition.

Dawn has learnt that the PFL will have six teams with PFF being offered Rs4,000,000 for each franchise, which will be sold by Global Soccer Ventures for US$2milllion. All commercial rights, including broadcasting and sponsorship, will be with Global Soccer Ventures with PFF receiving 12.5 per cent from the total revenue.

“We’re underselling rights for Pakistan football,” said Naveed. “Also we haven’t even seen whether the company has the financials to back what they’re promising.”

Ashfaq argued that the Pakistan Premier Football League will continue to be played with the PFL giving players an opportunity to play an international standard event. “It’s in the best interests of Pakistan football. This will help boost Pakistan football.”

Over the last several years, the idea of holding a franchise league has been floated numerous times by different parties in Pakistan. PSL franchise Peshawar Zalmi owner Javed Afridi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa football official Shahid Shinwari have all stated their intentions of doing so.

Afridi, it has been reliably learnt, is aligned with Global Soccer Ventures in the PFL plan.

However, it remains to be seen what standing the agreement between Ashfaq’s PFF and Global Sports Ventures will have considering the former isn’t recognised by FIFA.

Interestingly, Haroon Malik — the PFF NC chief appointed by FIFA in January this year following the resignation of previous chairman Humza Khan — has designs on holding a football league himself.

Z2C Limited, the company where Haroon is an executive director, has a sports monetization unit which “aims at managing and creating sports leagues for games that are played in Pakistan”. And football has long been on its agenda.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2021