I-League CEO bats for unified league

"Ideally, we need to have a league in the calendar that goes on for nine months. [It should be] the top league with the best teams. It is a work in progress," I-League CEO, Sunanda Dhar said.

"Bengaluru FC has proved that you don’t need to be a 100-year-old club to be good," the I-League CEO said.   -  B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

The moment I-League CEO Sunanda Dhar arrived at the Nehru Stadium for an inspection on Friday, he went straight to the players’ dressing rooms and had a look at the match-officials’ rooms, before having a chat with Rohit Ramesh, the owner of Chennai City FC, the newly-launched I-League team.

READ: >"Goan clubs need to introspect," says I-League CEO Sunanda Dhar

Speaking to the media later, Dhar said he was very happy with the facilities and expressed hope that fans in the city would throng the stadium like those in Bengaluru had to watch BFC.

CCFC takes on Minerva on January 8 in its first match.

Excerpts from Dhar’s interaction with the media:

Question: Chennai City FC is one is of the nine cities to host the I-League. How important is to take the tournament to new places?

Answer: Three-and-a-half years back, we had a strategic meeting with FIFA about football in general in India. And one of the [facts that] came out was that there was not enough centres (the I-League) was touching.

Four years back, we had 14 teams and six venues. The main aim was to spread the game. That was then we decided to introduce corporate bidding. And Bengaluru FC was the first to get it.

I think the decision [was right]. Now we’ve got 10 teams and 10 different venues. It is a good to have a club to look forward to. They [players] don’t have to go to Kolkata, Goa and Bengaluru.

Given the talks of the merger, do you think it was difficult to convince new teams to join the I-League?

The good thing about this year was that we got a record five teams to bid. It’s not that the I- league brand is finished. I think the quality of I-League has been great for the last two years; second to none. [Like] what BFC has done in India. It has proved that you don’t need to be a 100-year-old club to be good.

Will coverage and promotion be any different this year?

Last year, 45 matches were shown live. This year it’ll be 75 matches.

The remaining 15 matches will be streamed live on the I-League website. There is a huge market outside [India] also. We have had good hits from USA and the Middle East.

Is there a dichotomy when you talk about the merger on one hand and spreading the I-League on the other?

Everyone associated with the game wants one league. The two leagues at the moment becomes a problem as it puts pressure on players.

Ideally, we need to have a league in the calendar that goes on for nine months. [It should be] the top league with the best teams. It is a work in progress.

We wanted to have this merger done by the time the u-17 World Cup starts. It’s easier said than done as there are complications.

What about the Youth I-League?

Our focus has been on the youth league — the u-18 and u-15, and next year, we will be launching an u-13 league too. We might soon have a licensing criteria wherein a team will have to have u-18, u-15 and u-13 teams. That would be a pathway from junior to senior.

This year, we had 55 teams in the u-16, a jump from 38 last year.