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Everything you need to know about the domestic league structure of India’s SAFF rivals

GOAL takes a close look at the league system of the Indian SAFF competitors …

The SAFF Championship in 2021 starts from October 1 in the Maldives. This is the 13th edition of the biennial international championship for men’s football. India will compete with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the SAFF Championship. Bhutan has refused to participate due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while the Pakistan FA will be suspended by FIFA from April 2021 due to third-party interference.

All the participating teams are ready to give their best in the biennial competition and have drawn up a detailed training plan to prepare in the best way. While the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka travel to Qatar to hold training camps, Bangladesh traveled to Kyrgyzstan to take part in a three-nation tournament.

As the first season of the Indian Home League kicks off in November with the launch of the Indian Super League (ISL), we can look at the league system in the other SAFF countries.

Sri Lanka

The Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFSL) has been trying since 2018 to start the Sri Lanka Super League (SLSL) with appropriate guidance from the AFC (Asian Football Confederation). Under the leadership of Jaswer Umar, general secretary of FFSL, the league had to start in April 2020. But due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed until November 2020. The competition was further delayed due to the pandemic and it finally started in April 2021 with 10 teams playing against each other twice at the Sugathadasa Stadium, Colombo.

Unfortunately, the competition had to be stopped again after three match days due to the increase in Covid-19 cases in Sri Lanka. However, the FFSL hopes to resume competition in November after receiving the necessary permission from the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Health.

Previously, the Sri Lanka Champions League was the highest level soccer tournament in the island nation. It was inaugurated in 1985. 18 teams had previously competed in this league and they played against each other once. However, there were cases where the teams were divided into two groups, and the four best teams from each group would play in the championship round. The eight teams would play against each opponent once in a league format and the league leaders would grab the title.

The FFSL is also organizing a knockout cup competition called the Sri Lanka FA Cup. It is held in three phases – provisional, district and national. The 64 winners of the preliminary round play in the district phase and the winners then compete further in the national stage which starts with 32 teams. The winners are determined by a final match at the end of the tournament. It is the oldest football competition in Sri Lanka since it was established in 1948.


The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) is the best football competition in the neighboring country. It was established in March 2007. In the 2021 edition, 13 teams participated in BPL with Basundhara Kings emerging as champions. Each team plays twice on a home-and-away basis.

The Bangladesh Federation (BFF) also organizes two knockout competitions, namely the Federation Cup and the Independence Cup. In the Federation Cup 2020-21, 13 teams were divided into four groups. The top two teams from each group advanced to the quarterfinals. Basundhara Kings emerged as champions after beating Saif Sporting Club in the final.

On the other hand, the previous edition of the Independence Cup was organized in 2018. It was played in a similar format and Kings were the champions after beating Sheikh Russel in the final.

Basundhara Kings


The Dhivehi Premier League is the highest division in the Maldives, fought by a maximum of 10 teams. Each team plays against each other twice. In the 2019-20 season, nine teams took part in the competition, while eight teams closed horns against each other in 2020-21.

The Football Association of Maldives (FAM) also organizes a cup competition called the Maldives FA Cup. Generally, seven to eight teams take part in this competition. It was founded in 1988. However, the tournament is currently suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League is the top league competition in Nepal. 14 teams take part and they play once. The last edition of the league was held during the 2019-20 season, which was won by Machhindra FC. In 2020, the league was not held due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021-22 season of the league begins in November.

In 2021, the Nepal Super League is established, a top franchise based league. Seven teams played each other once in a league format. The top four teams advance to the playoffs. In the final, Kathmandu Rayzrs FC wins the title that Dhangadhi FC defeated 1-0.

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