The decision by the All India Football Federation Executive Committee to push up Indian Super League (ISL) contradicts the statements by its president Praful Patel, who had insisted that the I-League clubs will be given a fair treatment.
After a prolonged and delayed meeting, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Executive Committee released a statement on July 9, stating it would request the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to reserve AFC Champions League qualification berths for Indian Super League (ISL) clubs.
Effectively, this makes the ISL the top division of Indian football and relegate the I-League and its clubs to a secondary status and an extended period of uncertainty.
The decision was a complete U Turn to the proposals discussed during the meeting between AIFF president Praful Patel and representatives of the I-League clubs held in New Delhi on July 3. After that meeting, Patel pretty much put the ball in the AFC's court saying the confederation would take the final call. It should be noted that Patel is also a Vice President at the AFC as well as Asia's representative on the FIFA Council.
A week later, AIFF has requested the AFC to ‘positively consider’ its request to promote ISL.
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The national body has — through its actions and the latest Executive Committee statement — expressed displeasure at the moves and proposals made by the I-League clubs after the July 3 meeting. The I-League clubs had released a 10 point demand list for the AIFF a few days after the meeting. One of the key demands was that the I-League retains the AFC Champions League spot.
In the release, the AIFF presented quite a few reasons for its decision to promote ISL at the expense of I-League.
To start with, it stated the fineprint in the Master Rights Agreement with the FSDL, the promoters of ISL. Besides, the AIFF also pointed out the fact that in the last five years almost all the players who appeared for the Indian national squad were playing in the Indian Super League.
The AIFF letter also mentions that TV viewership, and in-stadia audience for the ISL has grown far more in comparison with the I-League. We, however, do know the step motherly treatment dished out to I-League fixtures by the official broadcasters . There is no way the I-League would have managed to win the TV battle. It must also be noted that the host broadcaster, STAR India, is a partner in FSDL making it a co-owner of the ISL.
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The compliance of ISL clubs with the AFC club licensing criteria, including strong grassroots, and youth development programmes which had also been certified by the AFC, was cited as another reason.
As far as the I-League, the clubs and the future roadmap for Indian football are concerned, the AIFF acknowledged everything needs to be resolved in a time bound manner.
Taking that into account, the AIFF Executive Committee requested the Asian Football Confederation to send a high-level delegation led by Dato Windsor John, General Secretary, Asian Football Confederation at the earliest to discuss this issue with all stakeholders of Indian Football including the AIFF’s commercial partners FSDL to arrive at a fair solution.
However, it is clear that the AIFF is not keen to make efforts in bringing about a fair result for both leagues. Instead, they have put the ball in the AFC’s court. A response from the continental body is awaited. Newsclick will be following this story closely, with reactions from all sides of the conversation, as it develops.
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