All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel, General Secretary Kushal Das and I-League CEO Sunando Dhar met with the representatives of ten I-League clubs in the capital to discuss the way forward for Indian football in terms of the leagues and broad look at how to improve the game in the country. Patel assured the clubs that their future was secure and said he will approach the Asian Football Council (AFC) to ensure the league continues to co-exist alongside Indian Super League (ISL) for another 2-3 years.
Patel said he will seek AFC's approval to maintain status quo for another 2-3 years, by when he hopes all the stakeholders will reach to a consensus. That will be done only after consultation with FSDL, 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 after the meeting.
"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. AFC also have to agree to what I am saying. It may be our wish but AFC will have to agree. Our commercial partners have to be consulted. At the end of the day, there are costs involved."
Out of the 10, eight - Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab FC, Aizawl FC, NEROCA, Gokulam Kerala and Shillong Lajong - are a united front on the issue while I-League champions Chennai City opted to not be part of the alliance during the Super Cup tournament. Real Kashmir FC, who were promoted to the top division last season, did not join the group but a representative of the club attended the meeting.
AIFF chief said, "There are also rights which they (FSDL) got through the Master Right Agreement which we had signed many years ago. Within that framework which is three years, I feel that the I-League also must co-exist with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product."
"It should not be something which is not recognised by the AFC. So the clubs in I-League must also not get lost in the upward movement. These are just suggestions which we will try to talk to all the stakeholders."
At the heart of the issue has been I-League clubs seeking clarification on move to accord ISL the top tier status in Indian football as per the agreement between AIFF and IMG-Reliance.
If the AIFF grants top league status to ISL, the winning team of the ISL is expected to play in the AFC Champions League — Asia's top tier club competition — qualifying round.
Till now, the I-League champion team has been getting that chance and Minerva played in the AFC Champions League qualifying round last year as I-League 2017-18 winners.
"With the advent of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), which is also a league recognised by the Asian Football Confederation, it is imperative to find a viable, and sustainable mechanism to mitigate the concerns about the future of the Hero I-League, and its clubs," said the AIFF in a media release.
"AIFF and the Hero I-League Clubs have agreed and will work together to find a solution to all issues including the calendar, scheduling, broadcasting, and the continuation of the Hero I-League for a defined period, till the roadmap is ascertained in a time-bound manner in consultation with FSDL, and the AFC."
"A lot of other meaningful issues were also simultaneously discussed, and it is hoped that all issues regarding the future of the Hero I-League vis-à-vis the Hero Indian Super League will be resolved shortly," the release went on to add.
In the lead up to the meeting, Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj told news agency PTI, "We will ask how there was an agreement/contract between AIFF and FSDL way back in 2010, which says that ISL will be made the top league in the country. Mr Patel has been all along saying that I-League is the top league in the country."
"We invested money for our clubs on the assurance that I-League will be the top league but now how can you say that there is an agreement (with FSDL) that ISL will be the top league and I-League will be relegated below. We will ask him. We will say that this agreement is illegal," he added.
With the AIFF Executive Committee slated to meet on 9 July, Bajaj said the clubs will approach the court if the national federation takes a decision to make ISL the top league.
(With PTI inputs)
Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 19:17:07 IST