AIFF to meet on July 3 to decide ISL, I-League future

There has been widespread doubt over whether the I-League will continue to remain the top-tier of Indian football or if the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL) will take the top spot.

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said the decision about the future of I-League will be taken by the executive committee.   -  Getty Images

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has called for a meeting of its Executive Committee on July 3 to put an end to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Indian football.

There has been widespread doubt over whether the I-League will continue to remain the top-tier of Indian football or if the cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL) will take the top spot.

“The AIFF's executive committee will meet on July 3rd and the decision will be taken then. Ultimately, it is there in the contract and the committee will decide on what is to be done,” Kushal Das, AIFF's general secretary, told Sportstar on Friday.

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The AIFF had signed a Master Rights of Agreement (MRA) with its commercial partners Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), a subsidiary of IMG Reliance, in 2010 which had stated that a new league (ISL) could be made the top division of Indian football and that the I-League could be reconstituted, replaced and/or discontinued (temporarily or permanently).

Referring to the contract, Das added that this clause (on the possibility of the ISL being named the top  division) “has been in the public domain for quite some time, so it is nothing new.”

If the ISL is named as the top division, the I-League will be re-named as League One and the second division will become League 2. Both the lower divisions will follow a system of promotion and relegation, but clubs from neither division will be able to join the ISL through promotion. The ISL clubs will enjoy immunity from relegation, as promised in the 10-year contract they had signed ahead of the first season in 2014.

This would have bigger implications as until now, the I-League and ISL winners claim the berth to play in the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup. However, in the proposed new system, the AFC slot is expected to be awarded to the winner of the Super Cup - a knockout tournament that pits the I-league clubs against their ISL counterparts.

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Path ahead

Rohit Ramesh, the owner of I-League champion Chennai City FC, is keen on knowing the path ahead.  “We want to look ahead and are keen to know how the League 1 will be structured. We'd like to know whether it will be televised, the schedule of the competition, how many foreigners we can field, and the like. As far as the ISL being named the top division, it was coming,” he said.

READ | I-League champion Chennai City FC yet to receive prize money

Chennai City FC I-League 2018-19 champion

Chennai City FC players celebrate after winning the 2018-19 I-League title.   -  S. Siva Saravanan

 

The FSDL has been eager to crown ISL as the top division because it is touted as the more marketable and profitable league amongst the two. However, some I-League club officials beg to differ.

V. C. Praveen, president of Gokulam Kerala FC, said: “More than this being a blow, we have lost faith in our Federation. It's like they are selling football. Even now, if the FSDL backs out of the I-League, the clubs can make compromises and make the league go on. We paid 3 crores to enter the I-League and now feel cheated.”

Praveen went on to add that the club has suffered losses upwards of 5 crores over the last two seasons in the I-League and is yet to receive subsidy and floodlight charges, to the amount of 25 lakh, from the AIFF.

Commenting on the development, a top East Bengal official said: “We hope there will be a solution in the end because the fans are with the I-League and we have more attendance here. It's a community sport. You can't call it (the ISL) the top league if you can't get fans to attend your games. You can't buy tradition in football and if you're trying to do that, it's very strange.”

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