By Samindra Kunti
October 18 – At last, Indian football has a roadmap. After years of dragging its feet the Indian governing body, AIFF has presented a plan to establish a single league by the 2024-25 season.
Indian football has been deeply divided ever since the introduction of the brash Bollywood-styled ISL in 2014.
The exact timeline to build the new landscape and resolve the bi-league system still has to be agree upon by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) but following a meeting at the ruling body’s headquarters between AIFF, the ISL franchises and I-League clubs the roadmap confirms that the ISL will supersede the I-League as India’s prime club league. Furthermore, from the 2022-23 season a relegation and promotion will be introduced between the two leagues and the franchise fee for I-League clubs will disappear.
AIFF had long claimed they’d offer a solution to India’s bi-league system, where the I-League runs concurrent with the ISL, modeled after the IPL and backed by Reliance, but in reality the AIFF did very little to resolve the schism in the Indian game. In February 2018, FIFA and the AFC recommended a unified league with 14 teams by 2020-21 in a 14-page report ‘The Sustainable Development of Top-Level Indian Club Football – A Road Map’, but after sitting on the document for nearly 1.5 years, AIFF said it couldn’t implement the recommendations.
Earlier this year, I-League clubs staged a revolt against the federation by not participating in the Super Cup in Bhubaneswar, and demanding a meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel. The AIFF boss ensured the clubs he’d grant them a meeting in April, but that was not enough to appease them and they pulled out of the competition.
The I-League club represent the old establishment of the Indian game. In 2007, the AIFF rebranded the National Football League, revamping it as the I-League, but i 2010, the AIFF signed a 15-year deal with IMG-Reliance worth Rs 700 crore (€87.5 million), giving IMG-Reliance the right to rebrand the I-League or start a new league altogether.
The new roadmap also stipulates that the winner of the ISL will get India’s ticket for the qualifying stages of the Asian Champions League. Victory in the I-League will have to make do with the AFC Cup.
“Everyone has to put the good of Indian football at the forefront and take the best decisions to develop Indian club football,” AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said in a statement. “The AFC will be very much involved to ensure the growth of the game to the next level with the pathway to a single league.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1601517902labto1601517902ofdlr1601517902owedi1601517902sni@o1601517902fni1601517902