I-League to continue until future roadmap is ascertained, says AIFF

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the I-League clubs have agreed work in tandem and find a solution to all issues including the calendar, scheduling, broadcasting, and the continuation of the I-League.

AIFF president Praful Patel and the representatives of the I-League clubs met in New Delhi on Wednesday.   -  Twitter @IndianFootball

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Wednesday assured the I-League clubs that efforts would be made to safeguard their interests. The announcement came at the end of a meeting here between AIFF president Praful Patel and representative of the clubs.

Patel told the clubs that status quo would be maintained as far as the two leagues are concerned – I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL). The leagues would co-exist for two more years, according to Patel. He added that he will approach the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to allow the two leagues to co-exist until a solution was found.

The AIFF said that Indian football's backbone has been the developmental and promotional activities, including the youth programmes conducted by the I-League clubs. “With the advent of the ISL, which is also a league recognised by the AFC, it is imperative to find a viable, and sustainable mechanism to mitigate the concerns about the future of the I-League, and its clubs,” the Federation said in a statement.

The decision would also involve the approval of Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which is a subsidiary of AIFF's commercial partner IMG-Reliance. "We don't want to pack up the I-League. It should continue. But ultimately there should be a roadmap of Indian football. Two leagues cannot go on permanently. The AFC will also not allow it forever. It is just a solution for the time being," Patel said.

The champions of every national league, as of now, play the Asian Champions League (ACL) while the winners of knock-out tournament compete in the AFC Cup. The current arrangement, on India's request, is to give the ACL slot to I-League winner and the AFC Cup to the ISL champion. The AIFF is looking to reverse this arrangement which would automatically make the ISL the official main league of the country.

The clubs have been at loggerheads with the AIFF and were unhappy as one of the AIFF officials has hinted that the ISL could be made the top league. "There is a historical issue with Indian football, within that framework, I feel a reasonable two to three years window should be given for I-League also to be continuing. I cannot give you any assurance yet because I have to talk to the AFC. The AFC also has to agree to what I am saying,” Patel said.

The AIFF president stressed, “The AFC will have to agree. Our commercial partners have to be consulted. At the end of the day, there are costs involved. I feel that the I-League also must co-exist with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product.”

"Along with the other clubs we met the AIFF president today. He gave us a patient hearing and assured us to look into all our concerns," said Rohit Ramesh, owner of I-League champion Chennai City FC.

The clubs have been given a day to respond to Patel’s suggestions.