Thursday 17 February 2022, 08:00

Sri Lanka takes first steps towards establishing professional league

  • Football Sri Lanka Super League completes first season

  • New competition takes domestic football from amateur to semi-professional status

  • FFSL implements modern club licensing standards, looks to update transfer regulations

Despite difficulties and interruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka has taken an important step towards establishing a sustainable professional football league by completing the inaugural edition of a new-look national championship.

The Football Sri Lanka Super League, played over the course of 2021 and supported by USD $500,000 of funding from the FIFA Forward programme, featured 10 teams and, for the first time, was played on a semi-professional basis.

A key feature of the new league was that it implemented club licensing rules based on Asian Football Confederation (AFC) guidelines and these were used to help select the 10 participating teams.

Sri Lanka Super League: Blue Star SC vs Blue Eagles SC

The rules ensure that basic standards are met and consider aspects such as a club's youth development, medical care, grassroots programmes, child protection and its anti-racism policies. Stadiums and training facilities are also evaluated while staffing is expected to include a general manager to run its daily businesses, finance officer, a security officer to handle safety and security matters, a doctor, physiotherapist, first-team head coach and assistant coach as well as a head of youth development and coaches for the youth teams.

The project was initiated by the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) President Jaswar Umar, in his previous role as General Secretary. The FFSL President, elected to his new position in June 2021, emphasised that this was not merely a new league but also a totally a new football industry with employment contracts for over 300 players, coaches and other officials, and new football business opportunities to many local entrepreneurs.

Sri Lanka Super League: Up Country Lions FC vs Red Star FC

“Super League is a new semi-professional format initiated by Sri Lanka Football with the financial and technical support of FIFA,” he said. “This was a missing part in Sri Lanka Football Structure for nearly 80 years. Super League has already made an impact on Sri Lankan Football by improving technical standards and match organizing level. Amidst the pandemic, we are happy to conclude the league, and this is a game changer for a positive impact on our future of football.”

Blue Star SC, based in the Kalutara district in the western province of Sri Lanka, claimed the inaugural title and a place in the qualifying rounds of the 2022 AFC Cup while their forward Shenal Sandesh was the top scorer with 10 goals. Coached by Devasagayam Rajamani, they finished with 22 points from nine games, three ahead of Sea Hawks FC and Colombo FC.

As well as most members of the Sri Lanka national team, the league also featured players from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Japan. One of the FFSL's immediate plans is to implement FIFA standards on the status and transfer of players.

The new league was preceded by the Sri Lanka Champions League, an amateur competition which was held every year from 2009 until 2018. The formats and number of teams varied, reaching a maximum of 22 teams in 2016.

Club football was one of the themes discussed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino when he visited Sri Lanka last November.

The league finished with an awards ceremony where members of the Sri Lankan national team which won the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) championship for the first and only time in 1995 were honoured by the Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa. The Minister emphasised the need for the sustainable development of football in Sri Lanka and to establish the foundation for commercial success.

Blue Star SC claimed the inaugural Sri Lanka Super League title