Pitch problems postpone start of India league

The inaugural edition of India's Premier League Soccer (PLS), featuring World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and former France international Robert Pires, has been postponed because of a lack of venues, organisers told Reuters on Wednesday.

The six-team competition, modelled on the successful Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament, was slated for a March 24 start in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal but the organisers said they could not secure the stadiums owned by the state government.

"Discussion is on with the state government but even if it is sorted out by the end of this week, we would need time to prepare the fields," Dharamdutt Pandey, CEO of the event management company which conceived PLS, said by telephone.

Secretary of All India Football Federation's (AIFF) West Bengal unit was in touch with the state sports minister and the issue would be resolved soon, Pandey claimed.

"These are minor issues and PLS is very much on. We are now targetting a mid-April start for the league.

"It would require at least one month to upgrade the stadiums to an international standard. So we are now looking at mid-April," Pandey added.

PLS is the second such league which set out to replicate IPL's success before teething problems led to postponements.

Earlier this month, promoters of an IPL-style nine-team motor racing league deferred the 12-race competition to next year because of logistic issues.

HOTTEST PROPERTY

In an otherwise cricket-crazy India, football is popular in pockets but nowhere more so than in West Bengal.

Nearly 120,000 fans gave a rousing reception to Oliver Kahn in the German goalkeeper's 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in Kolkata and Argentina great Diego Maradona almost brought the city to a standstill during his visit in the same year.

The January 30 auction of PLS players - mostly in the twilight of their careers - and coaches further whetted that appetite.

Franchises spent nearly $7 million in the auction where Argentine Hernan Crespo proved the league's hottest property, fetching $840,000.

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Cannavaro ($830,000), Pires ($800,000), Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha ($550,000) and Liverpool great Robbie Fowler ($530,000) were also auctioned as "icon' players among franchises based in different cities in West Bengal.

Among the coaches, former Manchester City and Sunderland manager Peter Reid and Marco Etcheverry, arguably the greatest Bolivian player, went for $200,000 each.


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