India stumble over league reform as Kolkata and Goa clubs argue

Indian flag on ball

By Andrew Warshaw

November 8 – The much debated merger between India’s two main leagues may have to be delayed beyond next year as the country struggles to stamp its mark on the global game.

Organisers of Indian football have had to look on enviously at the strides being made in China and were hoping to restructure the domestic league by amalgamating the current I-League, which has struggled to sustain itself, with the Indian Super League (ISL) to create a more sustainable model.

Last July, Kushal Das, AIFF general secretary, said the plan was for the remodelled structure to come into effect in 2017, the same year India stages the under-17 World Cup. “We believe it will be a game-changer and a legacy for Indian youth football,” Das told delegates at the World Football Forum in Paris in June. “It is a litmus test in terms of creating an impetus for youth football. At present we do not have system where players develop at an early enough age.”

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) were looking at a February-March timeframe in finalising a roadmap for the merger, comprising between 10 and 12 teams including all eight in the Indian Super League (ISL). But the ambitious plan is seemingly now being put on the backburner.

“We would have liked it to happen in 2017, we still do, but it looks unlikely,” Praful Patel, AIFF president, was quoted as saying this week.

The planned new league has been in the pipeline for several months with the ISL becoming the top-flight tournament and the I-League, to be renamed League One, becoming the second tier tournament. The new competition would run for six to eight months but the main area of contention, according to local Indian reports, is the lack of clarity on which teams from Kolkata and Goa would take part in an amalgamated competition.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino apparently recently advised the AIFF to safeguard the interests of traditional I-League clubs during the merger.

“If we don’t arrive at an amicable plan for the stakeholders, then the plan will be moved back for the 2018-19 season,” Das has now admitted. “The number of teams to participate in the league is yet to be decided.”

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