Putting an end to months of speculation about the merger of the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Tuesday proposed a revamped three-tier system for league football in India. This revamped system, which is likely to be implemented from the season 2017-18 season, will see the ISL become the top-most tier in Indian football. The I-League, which is currently the primary football league in India, would become the second-tier called League 1.
The third tier will comprise of teams currently playing in the 2nd Division League (second tier of the I-League).
A meeting was held on Tuesday, which was attended by officials from AIFF, ISL, I-League, I-League 2, Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) and official broadcaster Star Sports. Well-known Indian players such as former captain Bhaichung Bhutia and current star Sunil Chhetri were also present.
Reasoning the revamp, the AIFF said it is striving to see the national team improve its FIFA rankings to 120 by December 2017. It also wants to help the women's team qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
As the dust settles on this landmark announcement by AIFF, let's take a look at what this new proposed plan is all about and what it means for Indian football.
The new football calendar
Indian football came in for a lot of criticism for their cramped up football calendar that allowed little room for national team camps, especially after the launch of the cash-rich Indian Super League. Sustaining the ISL and I-League together has also been another problem that plagued Indian football for the last two years. The new proposed football calendar is an attempt to fix these issues.
The ISL usually runs from October to December, and then the I-League kicks off in January to go on till April. The league season is followed by the Federation Cup which takes place in the month of May.
According to the propsed three tier system, the ISL will run from November to March only in 2017/18, due to India hosting the U-17 World Cup in September and October. ISL will be a seven-month affair from 2018/19 season, extending from September to March.
The League 1 and 2 will run parallel to the ISL, for a period of five months in the 2017-18 season and seven months thereafter.
The Federation Cup will be replaced by the Super Cup which will consist of 16 teams and run in April and May.
The AIFF will also replace the defunct Nehru Cup with the Champions Cup from 2018 with India participating against teams ranked between 120-150. It is likely to be held annually in August.
The top tier of Indian Football will comprise of 10 or 12 teams, with the new teams being absorbed by a process of tendering. The tenders for the additional teams will be invited later. An unspecified number of teams from the I-League may be incorporated in the ISL, though according to AIFF President Praful Patel, nothing has been decided yet.
There is also no confirmation that Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and I-League champions Bengaluru FC may be included in the revamped ISL.
Most importantly,as per the proposed new format ISL will not have relegation or promotion. AIFF's franchise agreement, which exempts the ISL teams from relegation for the length of their ten-year contract, is believed to be the reason behind this move.
The League 1 and 2 on the other hand will have relegation and promotion. Both the league will have 10 teams each, with the latter being divided into two zones, namely West and East.
The Super Cup will have all eight ISL teams along with the top four team from League 1. The remaining four spots will be filled after play-offs between the remaining teams from the lower leagues.
AIFF Club licensing criteria
The ISL franchises will have to abide by AIFF's club licensing criteria that has been set as per the guidelines of AFC's club licensing stipulations, if the proposed model becomes official. The teams participating in the I-League, soon to be League 1, already follow this criteria and will have to continue with the same for the revised league. The licensing criteria might be slightly relaxed for the League 2 teams, according to a report from Goal.com
The ISL teams may continue to have six foreign players, but the winners will have to follow AFC's rules of three imports and one Asian player while playing in the AFC Champions League or the AFC Cup, Hindustan Times reported.
The I-League has struggled to attract broadcasters and the lack of proper telecast has hurt India's premier football league in terms of gaining popularity. However, the new League 1 will be aired on Star network and streamed on all of AIFF's digital platforms.
The ISL will have its usual telecast on Star network with the addition of streaming on AIFF's digital platforms.
League 2 matches we be available for as online stream on AIFF's digital platforms and may also have a telecast on regional channels.
The biggest hurdle facing Indian football at the moment is the lack of a sustainable revenue model for franchises and clubs. Unlike other major football leagues around the globe, there is no revenue coming from TV rights to the ISL as Star Sports, which is its broadcaster, is a part-owner of the league.
However, the AIFF has decided to share the central profit of ISL with the franchises to help them sustain themselves.
The League 1 clubs, which are believed to have been hit the hardest with the new format, will receive a big share from AIFF's revenue streams. The share for the League 2 teams is expected to be even bigger as compared to that of League 1.
Updated Date: May 18, 2016 15:57 PM