Why AIFF, Indian clubs and IMG-R are stuck in a football-hate triangle

"It's a classic example of how sports functions in India," blurted a journalist near the washroom, after the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) meeting, where some unanimous decisions were taken for the (apparent) betterment of Indian football.

What was really discussed in the meeting ranges from bizarre to very confusing at times, but the following points are a dummy's guide to the problems India's football administrators are facing:

- The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has backed IMG-Reliance's ambitious IPL-style football tournament slated to take place between January and March, 2014. The I-League clubs are not part of this tournament — the teams will be eight new franchises and names like Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Hernan Crespo are doing the rounds.

- The IPFCA have now decided that no I-League player will be released/loaned for the IMG-R tournament if there's an offer from one of the franchises. It works vice-versa too.

- The IPFCA, seeing that their players will have nothing to do during these months, have proposed their own tournament while IMG-R's is going on. They maintain that this is not rebelling against AIFF, but just an endeavour to keep players fit.

- The other issues which were discussed include a demand to increase the I-League prize money and display some discomfort over the AIFF's decision to change the league's format. Also, the I-League clubs have no idea when the 2013-14 season is starting.

Reuters

It's a huge risk tying down players to rigid contracts, but IPFCA are ready to take the risk of having disgruntled players and divided dressing rooms. Reuters

Now you know why it's a classically chaotic example of how football is run in the country. In fact, there are so many other instances like these which pop to your mind while looking at these issues closely. The English Premier League also started off on such a footing — with the top clubs resigning en masse before it's inaugural 1992-93 season. However, they had the backing of the FA.

One may even draw comparisons with the formation of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and Indian Premier League (IPL), with the latter surviving due to BCCI's backing. The former, has perished.

But this football triangle poses a million questions — all unanswered. There isn't one particular party at fault and everybody seems to be in the dark.

Chirag Tanna, the General Secretary of the IPFCA, mentioned the reasons for holding a different tournament: "Why should we pay our players and staff for three months and ask them to do nothing? We would like them to remain match fit."

We asked him what would happen if the AIFF didn't give them permission for the tournament, and he said: "Then we'll play friendlies."

Sources have told us that there is also no application made to the AIFF for this new tournament, and for I-League clubs to field foreign players in their own tournament, it's mandatory to have AIFF's permission. Top it up with the fact that I-League clubs don't own any stadiums — so where is this proposed tournament going to take place?

Also, ideally, a player who has had a cracking season would love to earn a quick buck by playing in the short IMG-R tournament. We're not talking about Wayne Rooney going away for two months to play at Real Madrid before returning. Let's be realistic, these are not global superstars... and playing in a tournament which is supposedly going to be broadcast live on TV is any footballer's dream.

"But what about our other players then? What will they do?" asks Tanna, completely ignoring the fact that playing in the IMG-R tournament may be a huge incentive for players to do better in the I-League and get noticed. It's the same with the Ranji Trophy — players playing the domestic tournament are pushed to perform better and earn an IPL contract. And if a player does well in either tournament, then he could pull people to actually go and watch the I-League — something that most of us football fans rarely even consider doing on a regular basis. Plus, don't forget Bhaichung Bhutia's influence in this. He has backed the IMG-R tournament is also President of the Football Players Association of India.

While the idea of a freelance footballer isn't very clever, it is what the game in India needs — tying down players to rigid contracts is a huge risk, but IPFCA are ready to take the risk of having disgruntled players and divided dressing rooms.

Tanna, while maintaining that the IPFCA are not at war with the AIFF, did take a slight dig at this new tournament: "They got Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero to play a friendly at Salt Lake... and not even 40,000 turned up to see them. And I don't know who'd like to see retired and semi-retired players play a league."

The IPFCA also raised issues about the I-League's new format — a two conference system somewhat like the Major League Soccer in America. An insider told us that the AIFF are doing this to cut costs. There isn't enough money with the suits in Delhi and it is getting too expensive to shuttle teams to all parts of India and accommodate them. The I-League clubs think it does nothing to develop Indian football — but the AIFF clearly want the money and the IMG-R tournament, if it happens, will certainly bring in the big bucks.

After the meeting, some questions were met with a straight, "We don't know... the AIFF haven't told us," at least half a dozen times. Tanna also said at one point: "The AIFF haven't told us anything and frankly, I don't think IMG-R are communicating anything to the AIFF." Another meeting is planned next week between the two parties.

It's a vicious cycle of zero communication between three bodies who are handling the nation's football.

Meanwhile, we're bidding to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup... scary.


Updated Date: Jun 07, 2013 15:37 PM

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