AUGUSTO RODRIGUES | NT
The roadmap for football in India is again being left to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to decide with All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel stating, at the end of a meeting with I-League clubs on Wednesday that recognition for the I-League will need to be got from the parent body.
The AFC blueprint for the future of Indian football mandates a merged top league before 2020. The AIFF, according to reports, was supposed to ratify its agreement with Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) during its executive committee meeting on July 9 making the Indian Super League as the premier league of the country, forcing seven I-League teams to threaten to take their parent body to court challenging the agreement with FSDL.
After a meeting with I-League clubs, All India Football Federation (AIFF) is set to ask AFC for permission to operate the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League simultaneously until at least 2022, its president Praful Patel reiterated on Wednesday according to reports in the media.
“Praful Patel disclosed plans to continue with both leagues run as before for the next three seasons. I do not know the stand AFC will take as their blue print mandates a merged league before 2020. He has given us assurances,” a member of an I-League club who attended the meet told The Navhind Times, on condition of anonymity.
“Tomorrow (in the future), 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 told reporters 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,” Patel was quoted as saying after the media briefing.
“There are also rights which they got through the Master Rights 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,” added Patel.
“The schedule will be of six-seven months so the leagues will run parallel. The timing of games can always be changed. The I-League had some issues with the broadcast and matches being played early last season. All that can be resolved. I told them that we will try to resolve those issues,” averred Patel when asked to elaborate on the plans of how the two leagues will be run concurrently.
The AIFF and IMG-Reliance signed an agreement before the start of ISL and it is now legally binding between AIFF and Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), a subsidiary of IMG-Reliance.
The agreement states that the ISL would be the “most senior and prestigious football league in India and another clause in the same agreement provides for the possibility that the existing league (I-League), could be “reconstituted, replaced or discontinued, either temporarily or permanently.”
“The issue is that we have to get both the leagues recognised together by the AFC. Suppose the AFC does not agree to our proposal, then that will be a problem. So, we have to get both the leagues recognised first. That is the real issue,” outlined Patel.
Patel, during his interaction, referred to the I-League as the “league of the country” and the ISL as the “new entrant”. “All the rivers flow into one larger entity,” added Patel.
“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.” read a statement issued by AIFF.
If the permission is granted by AFC, the new season will see the continuation of status quo.