Kolkata: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary Kushal Das today admitted that the parent body is seriously mulling the option of a merger between the I-League and IMG-R promoted ISL as it would mean a national league with 17 teams.
"It is true that teams have come down in I-League. But two new teams have also come up. One team which is no longer in League didn't have any vision. But the issue of Pune FC, not playing is a matter of concern. Maybe, they have not been able to develop a fan base in all these years, inspite of handling it professionally. And in case of Royal Wahingdoh, the reasons are financial," AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said at the launch of the Hero I-League 2015-16.
"But if you see the overall picture, two years back there were 12 teams playing the I league and now by combining two leagues, you have 17 teams playing, which helps us in thinking about merger much more," Das told reporters.
Last year, the I-League was played among 11 teams and out of those, three clubs -- Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh -- have pulled out and while one (Dempo) were relegated.
With new entrants DSK-Shivajians and Aizawl FC the I-League 2015-16 would be competed among just nine clubs.
The first match of the Hero I league seson will see defending champions Mohun Bagan take on Aizawl FC in Kolkata on January 9. Arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will lock horns on January 23.
AIFF hoped that with new promotional plans this year, I-Legaue would turn out to be more popular than last year.
"To promote I-League, we the AIFF and the Clubs have created a budget this year. Last few years there were no such promotions. But still in last year, we saw 50 percent increase in the attendance in venues and the television viewership also went up by 13 percent. So we think that the interest level in I-league is also increasing," I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said.
Dhar hoped that with two new teams coming up who have their own promotional plans, I-League too would be popular like ISL.
"Yes, there are lot of differences in promotional budgets of I-League and ISL. But I-league has its won place, it promotes Indian football, lot of players have come up through I league," Dhar said.
"Hero I League 2014-15 is a history now, everyone will be on equal footing on January 9 when the new season of the league kicks off. We will fight to win the I league this time too and keep it in our club," said Shilton Paul, captain of the defending champions Mohun Bagan.