New Delhi: All India Football Federation President Praful Patel today made a pitch for making Indian Super League a "tournament for South Asian region" with the participation of more players from SAARC countries.
Patel was speaking as a panelist at the third International Convention on Football Business at the FICCI House here.
Referring to ISL in a panel discussion on 'Football on SAARC - Teaming the SAARC Football, Football in South Asia', Patel said, "The ISL is a tournament of India. But I want it to be the tournament of the SAFF region.
"Mamunul, the Bangladesh national team captain was a part of the triumphant Atletico de Kolkata in inaugural edition of the Hero Indian Super League while Haroon Fakhruddin, the national team Captain of Afghanistan was one of the key Players for FC Goa," he said.
"The numbers can increase in the coming years for sure," he added.
Dasho Ugyen Dorji, President Bhutan Football Federation, said that the football scenario in the SAFF region would change with the "emergence of the Hero Indian Super League".
"The interest generated will help football to grow in the region. And Bhutan will certainly benefit from it because if Football grows in the region, we will benefit too," he said.
Patel recollected the planning stage of the ISL and said everyone doubted the decision of the AIFF to organise the match.
"There was a lot of criticism and skepticism amidst most prior to the kick-off of the ISL. The AIFF was criticized a lot for going against the so called conventional method. But what was needed was to redefine and give a new direction to Football in India," Patel said.
"In that sense, the ISL was successful in giving the much-needed fillip, impetus and boost to Indian football.
You look at pure numbers, for that matter. In ISL, the average attendance was around 25000 while in IPL it stays at 29000. So it was not far behind," he said.
"For Football in the region to improve, you need to have more competition. The level of the competition has to change.
Everyone needs to concentrate on building the national team," he said.