‘Club Licensing’ must for football development

By Shahid Niaz Khokhar (Ex-PFF Head League, Club Development and Club Licensing)

Football is the most captivating and popular physical activity around the globe. Somewhere millions and somewhere billions follow the game. Such a huge fan-base  has given new dimensions to the sport. At the same time, it has shouldered the organisers new responsibilities.

A football club is the basic brick of the tall building of football. The quality of the brick determines the height of the structure. A football club is in fact an organic unit from within the soil of that vicinity or region which is the key driver of football development in that particular belt. It carries a true support of the fans initially belonging to streets where the birth of that club occurs. It then engages the fans from all over depending on its quality and standard. A club has two basic parts including administration and players. Administrators provide a structure while the players perform on field. Hence a club, like any other entity, has two major steps including the ‘formation’ and ‘growth’.

Talking about the structure of the club, the first-ever requirement for a newly-born club always remains its identity. The wide-ranging merits of the identity is a separate and complete subject but just a core aspect of it is the necessity of a title with which the fans can associate themselves and the club can be identified. Who can give an identity to the club? An administration which itself carries a legally-registered status. The  identity of a club then becomes a “legal identity”. Making it simpler, the club must be an entity supported by a law of that land. Why it is essential? Because the law provides the rightful authority to the group of people who claim to have held the identity of that particular club. It helps not only to avoid any wrangling inside the club but also creates a level of trust among the external stakeholders of the club including the financial forces. It generates and keeps the fan-base of the club intact. It is very important for the clubs to understand that identity does not mean only the name of the club. It is rather a complete package which includes club’s logo, nickname, colour, slogan and tag-line. Like many, who believe in club development, I have also witnessed the magic of identity if created keeping all the relevant factors in view. Identity is just a beginning of the story. As far as Pakistan is concerned, this is the first criteria for the clubs to meet the requirements of “Club Licensing”. A club needs to take many further steps to become a high-quality professional entity. Now what happens, if, in a competition, one club has adopted certain standards but the other has not? Ultimately that club will be ousted from the race. Keeping the developmental and competition aspect in view, FIFA introduced Club Licensing System based on certain criteria, necessary for the participating clubs to meet. UEFA had already adopted it in 2004 which showed the rest of the world the benefits of the implementation of the system. It not only is the most vital tool for club development but also for competition development. In 2015 FIFA applied the system to all six member confederations which then engaged their member associations to follow the path. 

What does the Club Licensing mean? It is basically the process one club has to follow to become eligible for participation in a certain competition. During this process, it has to fulfil certain criteria issued by the organizer of the competition, which, in different cases, might be FIFA, Confederation or the Member Association itself. FIFA and the Confederations adopted a gradual and flexible approach in the beginning when the member associations were asked to implement the system. For example, in the case of Pakistan, a tailor-made set of criteria named globally as “Club Licensing Regulations” or “CLR” with the help of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) was laid down in 2015. It is yet another story why these regulations or club licensing system has not been successfully implemented in Pakistan.  My focus in this piece is to broadly introduce the CLR to football stakeholders in Pakistan and highlight the importance of the implementation of CLR for development of  the game in the country. 

Like in the rest of the world, inside Pakistan for the teams to participate in the country’s top league “Pakistan Premier League”, the salient criteria remained almost the same as a starter. After having fulfilled “Club Identity Criteria”, the CLR then speaks about the “Sporting Criteria” which emphasizes on the appointment of a coach having minimum AFC ‘B’ Coaching Certificate along with an assistant coach having minimum AFC ‘C’ Coaching Certificate. Another requirement demanded to be fulfilled by these criteria is the compulsion for every club to run a youth (Under-19) team. To implement this extensively important and difference-making criteria in Pakistan, as the head of the subject during my services with Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) I strongly feel that a real innovative strategy is needed. And as compared to the first criteria where one only needs to have a close study of the relevant factors, the fulfilment of this requirement needs finances. “Sporting Criteria” is followed by some compulsions regarding the infrastructure which revolves mainly around two points that a club which applies for a License to participate in Pakistan Premier League should have guaranteed access to a home-playing field for its home matches in the competition and a year-round available training field additional to have an administration office. The CLR then asks the club to meet certain requirements while fulfilling the “Personal and Administrative Criteria”.  In some countries of South Asian region even outside the region, there are two types of clubs; first are the privately-run clubs and the others are the state-owned entities. Both have a huge difference in characteristics, behaviours, outcomes, objectives and working styles. This criteria is a tough ask for the clubs of both types for absolutely different reasons, resultantly requires different strategies to handle the challenges. Another criteria, which, in fact, is the last of its kind, is the “Legal Criteria”. It has been very briefly explained in the beginning of the article, which, in my views is the most important one after the “Clubs Identity”. I have experienced that the sufferings of Pakistan’s football are mainly due to not fulfilling of this criteria. My personal faith is that no club should be given registration with the PFF without having fulfilled this requirement. However, in the perspective of Pakistan Premier League, which actually is the prime subject of the CLR, this criteria is met by the participating clubs this or that way.

I firmly believe that if Pakistan or any other nation desires to make its way forward in this beautiful sport and glorify its image among other countries through football, it must focus and support the clubs, for which helping in implementation of “Club Licensing” as a development tool may be potentially helpful.