Pakistan Football League kicks off, former Liverpool star Michael Owen attends grand launch

Renowned footballer and former Liverpool striker Michael Owen and other famous former football players have arrived in Pakistan to spearhead the official launch of the Pakistan Football League (PFL).

The launch event marks a significant moment for Pakistani football as top international stars and executives from the UK, Italy, Spain, United States and Portugal join Owen in celebrating the league’s inauguration on June 4, 2024, in Lahore. The delegates were from clubs including Spanish giants Barcelona, Portugal’s Benfica and Argentina’s River Plate.

Michael Owen was optimistic about the future of football in Pakistan. “Two years ago I had come to Pakistan and was very impressed with the passion the people of Pakistan have for sports. And now after two years I have found their attitude very serious as what is going to happen,” Owen said while speaking at the PFL launch ceremony.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan Jane Marriott welcomed the guests, sharing the photos from the event on social media.

The high-profile delegation includes notable names such as Emile Heskey, former striker for Leicester City and Liverpool; Pascal Chimbonda, ex-French international; and Raúl Rodríguez, former Espanyol defender. Upon their arrival, the footballers visited educational institutions in Islamabad, engaging with students and ministers, with Owen even playing football with schoolchildren.

Other key figures in the delegation are Steve Wood, Adrian Bevington, and Michael Knighton, along with executives from major football clubs and organizations. Accompanying them are top sports journalists Alison Jane Bender (Sky Sports, Chelsea TV), Jim White (The Telegraph), and Gary Stonehouse (The Sun), who are covering the event.

“A galaxy of stars has come to Pakistan,” PFL chairman Farhan Junejo said at the ceremony. “These football stars will guide our children about the sport.”

On Monday, the guests held a meeting at Parliament House with Senate Chairman Yousuf Raza Gilani, who assured his support for the PFL, which hopes to be the football counterpart of cricket’s Pakistan Super League. “Let us celebrate the spirit of football, embrace diversity, and work together to create a brighter future one where every child has the chance to chase their dreams on the football field,” Gilani remarked.

Pakistan Football League
Senate Chairman Yousuf Raza Gilani in a group photo with a delegation of world football and Pakistan Football League officials at Parliament House on June 3, 2024. (Image Credit: PID)

The PFL was set up by Global Soccer Ventures (GSV), whose chief executive Zabe Khan conceived the idea of Pakistan Premier League, the country’s first professional league with the slogan ’Football Hoga’ (Football will happen).

Pakistan Football League event

The three-day visit starts in Islamabad and moves to Lahore for the official launch, culminating in Karachi with a football carnival. Farhan Junejo, Chairman of PFL UK Holdings, highlighted initiatives to support young Pakistani football talent, including sending 100 children annually to Lisbon for training and distributing 100,000 footballs across Pakistan. These efforts aim to inspire and nurture the next generation of football stars in the country.

“Pakistan has warmly embraced football professionals, underscoring the sport’s potential and global interest in Pakistani football. The inaugural kick-off in this league will significantly impact the lives of numerous young aspirants,” PFL chairman Farhan Junejo said.

“We are trying to deliver a good project. We promise our children in the next two to three years they will see infrastructure and opportunities to play football. We aim to give opportunities to Pakistani kids.” Farhan Junejo said that PFL “will reach out to every district of Pakistan and we are going to give away 100,000 footballs and kits to the kids,” and create good infrastructure and more sporting opportunities for them, Farhan said.

Juenjo also announced that the PFL has secured agreements with a club in Portugal to send 100 children to Lisbon annually for training alongside top professionals. The PFL also plans to build a “state-of-the-art soccer city stadium” in Karachi.

5 Football franchises announced

Pakistan Football League announced five franchises:

  • Zalmi FC (Peshawar)
  • Liyari Tigers FC (Karachi)
  • Lahore FC
  • Sialkot FC
  • Faisalabad Lions FC

PFL CEO and President Ahmer Kunwar said that the PFL was designed to see how productive football in Pakistan was. “We are here to give players the opportunities to shine,” Kunwer said. He said that they aim to create a business model that will be sustainable and will develop the sport in the country.

PFL’s CEO Ahmer Kunwer stressed during his address the strategy was beyond a six- to eight-week league. “The key objective for us is about creating an ecosystem that can [help] uplift football in Pakistan … and obviously the most important thing is giving our players the opportunity to play football,” Kunwer said.

Pakistan Football League faces opposition from PFF despite Govt support

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the Pakistan Football League (PFL), it faces significant opposition from the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee (PFF NC), which has labeled the league “illegal and unsanctioned”.

PFL has received government support following a key meeting with Inter-provincial Coordination Minister Rana Sanaullah, who described the meeting as “a significant milestone in the government’s efforts to promote sports, in line with the Prime Minister’s Vision”.

Despite government support, the PFL’s planned launch in November 2024 is under threat as the Haroon Malik-led PFF NC asserts its authority as the sole body to regulate football in Pakistan. The NC has warned of disciplinary actions against players and officials participating in the PFL. This opposition and controversy casts a shadow over the PFL’s future and raises questions about governance and oversight in Pakistani football.

In response, PFL CEO Kunwer said “We are not here about creating an independent empire or a parallel body … We just want football to prevail.”

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