Indian football structure set for major makeover

According to a comprehensive roadmap drawn up by the AIFF, club football in the country is expected to be completely overhauled with a 50-club four-layer system replacing the current setup.

Under the proposed changes, ISL will be expanded to either 10 or 12 teams and will be the premier competition in the country.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) met the country’s top club officials and representatives of Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the operators of the Indian Super League, and STAR Network in New Delhi to share a vision document for Indian football.

According to sources, a comprehensive roadmap was presented before the stakeholders. The club football structure in the country is expected to be completely overhauled with a 50-club four-layer system replacing the current setup. Read: >East Bengal, Mohun Bagan on the same page

The project will kick off in 2017-18 with 28 clubs from the ISL, I-League and I-League Second Division and will expand to 50 by 2020.

Teams from the I-League Second Division will now play in the lowest division, to be christened League 2 (10 teams). The second layer will be called League 1 (10 teams) and will mostly have the current I-League clubs, while the ISL will be the premier competition in the country. The ISL is expected to be expanded either to 10 or 12 teams (though the correct number is yet to be known). A few I-League clubs will also be part of the top tier. “This was an initial discussion. We have not decided on the exact number of teams in the ISL. The financial modalities (for the teams aspiring to enter the ISL) are yet to be discussed. We will surely expand the ISL, but there will be a fee,” an AIFF official said.

However, all the clubs, including the eight existing ISL franchisees, will have to abide by the stringent Asian Football Confederation Club Licensing criteria.

The AIFF will launch a zonal competition with five teams from the East, West, South and North Zone by 2020.

“We already have 28 clubs in our football system, if you take into account the eight ISL clubs, nine in the I-League and 11 in Second Division of the I-League. So, 50 is a realistic number,” Sunanda Dhar, the I-League CEO, had said earlier.

The top two Leagues will be telecast live on STAR Network along with web streaming, while fans of the bottom division will have the chance to follow their teams in regional channels and online.

The three Leagues are expected to run concurrently from September to March (seven months) from the 2018-19 season.

The AIFF vice-president and owner of Shillong Lajong, Larsing Ming, told Sportstar that he is happy with the comprehensive roadmap. “For the first time Indian football has a long-term roadmap. There is a promise and if followed properly it will help Indian football,” he said.

“However, every League should receive the same importance in terms of marketing and broadcast rights. The untiring work of the I-League clubs should not be overlooked,” he added.

The AIFF is expected to offer heavy financial assistance to the clubs in League 1 and 2, while the ISL clubs will get a larger share from the tournament’s central revenue pool.

Other changes

Federation Cup: The knockout competition, now to be called Super Cup, will see clubs from ISL, League 1 and 2 participating. Top four League 1 teams will get a direct entry along with the top eight ISL sides. The rest will play a qualifying tournament to fill up the remaining four spots.

The 16 teams, divided into four groups, will play on home-and-away basis, with the top two from each group entering the knockout stage. The knockout stage will also be played on home-and-away format. “The Super Cup will be played over two months. The clubs will be assured of nine months of football – two for Super Cup and seven for the League. This will help the players as well as the clubs,” the official said.

Nehru Cup: The tournament will now be called the Champions Cup and will be held annually. The AIFF will only invite international teams ranked between 120 and 140 in the FIFA list to provide greater competition to the national team. The first edition is expected to be held either in Chennai or Bengaluru in 2017.

Women’s Football: The much touted women’s League will start from November this year and will continue till February 2017. “The AIFF has already received statement of interest from seven or eight parties and the first season should at least have eight teams,” the AIFF official said.

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