A unified Indian Professional Football Clubs Association said six representatives will meet officials of All India Football Federation over the contentious issue of the proposed IPL-style league. The clubs met in Mumbai on Tuesday to discuss the issue and form a united front.
"Raj Gomes (president of IPFCA), Chirag Tanna (its secretary), two of our vice presidents, Valanka Alemao (CEO of Churchill Brothers) and Mustafa Ghouse (from newly formed I-League club JSW) will attend the meeting on our behalf," Nandan Piramal, the owner of Pune FC, said.
Piramal said their purpose of the meeting meeting was to understand how the new tournament would help Indian football. "We would like to know how such a league will benefit Indian football, I-League - which is the premier football tournament in the country - and the I-League clubs. We are going into this meeting with an open mind and without any preconceived notion."
Among the issues that have bothered the clubs is that they were kept in the dark about the league while the concept was being created. "IMG-R have not contacted a single club in these three years," Piramal said. "Forget about that, when we asked the AIFF about the contract they signed with IMG-R, they tell us that there is some confidentiality agreement which stops them from doing so. This is a breach of trust."
IMG-R, which was awarded the commercial rights for Indian football for 15 years, has announced a high profile tournament in the middle of the season in which I-League clubs will not take part. The clubs, threatened by this tournament, rebelled with an agreement to not allow any of its players to play in it and don't believe it helps Indian football.
The clubs did admit that they were at fault for allowing the situation to develop without having raised objections earlier. “I would think Nandan (Piramal) would raise his voice, he would think Srinivas Dempo (Dempo FC) would speak up and someone would think that Shivanand Salgaocar (Salgaocar FC) would say something," Valanka Alemao, the chief executive of Churchill Brothers said. “The serious announcement of a new tournament was the final straw. But this time, we have one voice. We stand together and we are the clubs who have sustained Indian football for decades.”
India coach Wim Koevermans recently said that the new tournament was the 'biggest threat' to Indian football — making it plain that it was no platform to choose the national team from. That statement was hastily withdrawn by the AIFF in a press release, but the clubs made it clear Koevermans had made those statements.
"Is football just about money?,” Alemao said. “With such planning, we're going to go from world No 146 to 250! The IMG-R are partners of the AIFF right? So why don't they help the I-League clubs? Who asked them to make a new tournament which will kill India's premier league?"
The clubs also said the AIFF was not being transparent with them and listed a litany of examples. "Out of the blue they announced that Pailan Arrows will play in the I-League,” Alemao said. "This, after deciding to relegate them a couple months back. We don't know the dates of the I-League. The calendar they sent us mentions no matches. We need a lot of answers. They just cannot take us for granted."
At the same time, IMG-R have found it hard to attract the biggest names in Indian football. JSW Bangalore recently signed Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, and the clubs said it shows the appeal of the I-League.
"It's not as if we've not signed the players we wanted. Even they know that they shouldn't make rash decisions. As for the players IMG-R have signed, there will always be those who just play for money — in every sport," Piramal said.
The IMG-R league is proposed to be held between January 5 and March 5 next year and the clubs made it clear they would host their own tournament if the AIFF were to go ahead with it. They also said they were willing to take legal action to protect their turf if there was no other alternative.
"They wake up and say whatever you do is useless and we have a new grand idea?,” Piramal said. “That doesn't work. We'll do whatever is needed to get justice — if you can call it that."
With inputs from PTI