AIFF non-committal about I-League's future

“The aim is to have a structure in place where there is one league on top followed by a second and third division. The name of the league is not important,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said on the I-League's future.

For the third time in as many seasons, the I-League title race will be decided on the final matchday. Chennai City leads the table with 40 points, while East Bengal trails by one point.   -  AIFF

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar remained non-committal to the prospect that India’s top-tier championship would continue beyond the 2018-19 season.

“The aim is to have a structure in place where there is one league on top followed by a second and third division. The name of the league is not important,” said Dhar, on the eve of Chennai City FC-Minerva Punjab match at the Nehru Stadium here on Friday.

He added, “The AIFF will come out with a plan. We want to do it as soon as possible. The plan is to have one league structure but relegation-promotion could be difficult. What is currently there in existence would be difficult to rub out. There are things set in place which would come into force in the years to come.”

Dhar was pleased with the success of the ongoing season where the title race will be decided on the final day of the season for the second year running. “Now is not the right time to talk about it (future of the I-League). I don’t think we could have scripted it (last day finish) any better. The last three editions have gone down to the wire. I don't have the official figures but the average in-stadia attendance has bettered last year's (58 per cent increase). And all of this has been an organic growth.”

Despite the success of the I-League, its club owners have expressed displeasure over the competition receiving poor treatment when compared to the Indian Super League. Dhar did not share a similar view. “Like ISL, I-League is also an AIFF property and not that there would be a different treatment for I-League clubs. Chennai City is as close to us as a Chennaiyin FC. We don’t differentiate. The new teams coming up have added to the ecosystem of Indian football. The biggest story of the season has been Real Kashmir, and how its crowds and people of the city behaved. So each year we throw up such stories,” he said.

“We need teams at every level. At the end of the day, I think it will depend on which is the team which is doing well on the field will come out and play in the top-division. It will take some time to put that into practice but it will happen,” he added.

Last year, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had formed a two-member committee and had put forward a study to the AIFF asking Indian football to choose between Indian Super League and the I-League to be its top division league from the 2019-20 season onwards.

“The study is with the AIFF general secretary, which would be placed in front of the executive committee. It is a report which is a suggestion from the AFC but its AIFF's prerogative to go by the report or make changes to the report,” Dhar said.

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