Football may not be the national sport of Laos, but it is the most widespread in the country, and more than any other sport in the country is preferred by the majority of the population to play and watch. In a country that has been dominated by traditional sports such as Sepak Takrou for years, football is gaining popularity, especially in urban areas and among young people.
This article provides a brief overview of the evolution of football in Laos and its current status in the country.
History of football in Laos
Football has been played in Laos since the region was a French colony. French expatriates living in the country introduced the locals to the sport. As soon as the country became independent, Laos created its national football association, the Lao Football Federation (LFF), in 1951, and a year later it became a member of FIFA. Although the association became a member of the AFC in 1958, it did not become a member of the AFF until 1996.
Although the country gained independence, for a long time it could not get rid of political upheavals and unrest, and this could not but affect the socio-economic affairs of the country, including sports. The team could not qualify for the FIFA World Cup, Asian Games or Asian Cup and was limited to regional events such as the AFF Suzuki Cup and the Southeast Asian Games.
In recent years, Laos has been on the path to socio-economic recovery after prolonged economic and political instability, and this has seen other factions of the country benefit from improved stability. As the people of the country get the opportunity to focus on and engage in other activities, the popularity of football has increased as a result.
Laos National Football team
The Laos national football team is currently ranked 187th.th in the FIFA rankings. The team has been active since the 1950s, but political and economic instability from the 1950s to the 1990s marred the team’s performance, preventing it from gaining international recognition.
The team first competed at the Southeast Asian Games in 1995 and then competed in the Tiger Cup, now known as the ASEAN Football Championship. The team beat the Philippines and Brunei despite their lack of regional experience. Two years later, the national football team competed at the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta and beat the much stronger Malaysia.
In the early 2000s, the team continued to participate in the qualifying rounds of the World Championship and the Asian Cup. In 2006 and 2014, the national team managed to reach the second round of World Cup qualifiers, but failed to succeed. However, despite failing to qualify, the team achieved international success defeating much stronger teams such as Malaysia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia. The team qualified for the Challenge Cup in 2014, its first participation in a continental tournament.
In recent years, match-fixing scandals have cast a shadow over the national team, the FFL and the local club, bringing them under scrutiny in 2017. As a result, many competent and famous LFF players and officials were disqualified.
Home football in Laos
Domestic football competitions are very active in Laos. Currently, more than 60 football clubs compete at various levels in the country. Although most of the leading teams come from state-owned companies and ministries, football in Laos is still amateur.
The Laos Premier League, or Lao League 1, is the top professional football division in Laos. The league was founded in 1990. The Lao Football Federation governs and oversees the affairs of the Lao League 1. There are currently seven clubs in the league, of which the Lao Army is the most successful team, having won the league eight times.
The main domestic football competition in Laos is the LFF Lao Ford Cup. The team that wins the tournament is eligible to participate in the AFC Cup and the ASEAN Club Championship. The current champions of the LFF Lao Ford Cup are Young Elephants FC who won their first title in 2022.
The regular season of the Lao Premier League runs from February to September. Each team plays other teams three times. Teams are ranked according to points scored during the season, followed by goal difference, total goals and head-to-head record. Lao League 1 follows the promotion and demotion system with the Lao League which was formed in 2020. The current league winner is the Lao Army Football Club, which won the title in 2021.