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8-min read

Uncertainty in Indian Football Continues: AIFF President Seeks 3 More Years to Resolve I-League-ISL Issue

AIFF president Praful Patel met with the I-League clubs in New Delhi on Wednesday but the path ahead remains misty.

Abreshmina Sayeed Quadri | News18 Sports

Updated:July 3, 2019, 8:30 PM IST
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Uncertainty in Indian Football Continues: AIFF President Seeks 3 More Years to Resolve I-League-ISL Issue
AIFF president Praful Patel said he heard and understood the grievances of the I-League clubs. (Photo Credit: AIFF/Mohun Bagan)
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New Delhi: The uncertainty over the future roadmap of Indian football does not look like it will get resolved anytime soon. On Wednesday, All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel met with the agrieved I-League clubs in New Delhi to discuss the controversy about Indian Super League (ISL) getting the top-division status and the future of the I-League and its clubs.

Not much is known about the detailed discussion that took place in the meeting but AIFF president Patel said to the media that he will be seeking three more years of parallel-running league structure with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to arrive at a solution.

The I-League clubs, on the other hand, have asked for a 24-hour window to get back to AIFF about the "proposals" made in the meeting and only after discussing with their management, will be arrive at a conclusive idea.

"There has been a lot of uncertainty around. Unfortunately this started because in between there were a couple of months of election season and I was also a candidate for the FIFA council and there some issues cropped up. All I can say is that we have always acknowledged the I-League clubs as long-standing, clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have a long history of Indian football. Other clubs have also started contributing a lot to Indian football. So nobody wants to undermine and say that I-League clubs do not have a good future. We also want the I-League clubs to have a good future.

"There are issues that you are aware of and there is no need to repeat them but ISL also has come and redefined Indian football by the kind of exposure it has got. We are concerned about all stakeholders in Indian football. We want players to do well and get paid well. Ultimately, the national team also has to do well. All these issues are part of overall development of football. Therefore, we had a meaningful meeting today. They had their concerns and I respect their concerns. While the I-League is going on, they have scheduling issues, broadcast issues, all these things have to be given their right solution and must be resolved. I have given them that assurance," Patel told the media.

I-League clubs were also appreciative of the fact that Patel patiently heard their grievances and finally, gave them his time. I-League clubs had been seeking a meeting with the AIFF president since mid-February.

Mohun Bagan senior official Debashish Dutta said the I-League clubs felt that Patel was not fully aware of their situation and that they could finally put their problems in front of him.

"Regarding the future of I-League clubs, the future of Indian football and ISL, we discussed a lot and he also came out with certain points. We are only six clubs here, we are not talking about the others. What we said in the meeting later was that we will have to go back to our management and discuss these issues because it is not small," Dutta said on behalf of the I-League clubs.

AIFF president, on the other hand, said that he will be waiting for the I-League clubs to get back to him with "positivity" after which he can take his idea forward.

"I don't want the I-League to be packed up tomorrow, it should continue. But ultimately, there has to be a roadmap of Indian football, two leagues cannot go on permanently. AFC will also not allow it forever, we have been trying to get to a solution because there is a historical issue with Indian football. Within that framework, a reasonable 2-3 years should be given to I-League to also continue. I cannot give you any assurance on that yet because I have to talk to AFC and they have to agree to what I'm saying.

"We must have a three-year window where the I-League also runs with full recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product and clubs in the I-League do not get lost in the movement. Within these three years, I hope we can find a solution for Indian football.

"I want them (I-League clubs) to respond soon also because without that I can't make decisions. Whatever suggestions I have made, the I-League clubs have to get back to me. If they broadly agree to the three-year window then I will try to work it out," Patel elaborated.

I-LEAGUE'S BROADCAST AND SCHEDULING ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED?

Patel acknowledged that the I-League clubs had some genuine concerns about the functioning of the league and that there has to be a proper structure in place for the I-League to flourish.

Midway through the 2018-19 season, the AIFF had announced that I-League broadcasters Star Sports will not telecast half of the matches and that led to a huge uproar. Patel assured that these problems will be resolved.

"The I-League clubs have issues and rightly so. You have the league and the schedule is not clear or some broadcast issues. I agree that I-League should also be produced and broadcast with high quality and also, the scheduling should be structured. Keeping all these views in mind, we are trying to find a solution.

"It's a 6-7 months league so there has to be a parallel league. The timing of the game is something which can be worked at. There are some broadcast issues and the matches being played a little bit too early, that can be resolved. I am trying to find a solution within their concerns," Patel said.

Debashish Dutta opined that Patel is personally in favour of the I-League clubs and some of the contractual obligations might be holding him back.

"We are saying that Mr Praful Patel personally is always with the I-League clubs, from the time he became the president, he always supported the I-League. Even today, there are certain problems of which he spoke with us. There are some contractual obligations and he is also facing some problems so we are thinking how both parties can come to an agreement and then we can think of going forward.

"We have committed to Mr Patel in the meeting that we should not go out with the proposals to the media."

WHO GETS THE ACL AND AFC CUP SPOT?

With parallel leagues running and uncertainty over which league holds more importance in the country, the big question is the winner of which league gets a spot in the Asian Champions League (ACL) and who gets an AFC Cup spot.

Currently, the I-League winners represent India in the ACL while the ISL champions get an AFC Cup spot. But if ISL is afforded more importance, that can change.

"Definitely (the debate of who gets the ACL spot and who gets the AFC Cup spot is important) and there are discussions are happening on all these matters. He has told us something and we have asked for time to get back to them because if we are committing anything, we can't go back on that so we have taken time," Dutta said.

Patel, however, did not feel that the ACL and AFC Cup matter should be given much importance.

"The issue is not who gets an ACL spot or AFC Cup spot, the important thing is for both the leagues to be recognised. I have always said that I-League is the main league of the country and ISL is a recent entrant but so be it. The matter is how we get a roadmap where all rivers can flow into one larger entity.

"With the ISL also, they have some contractual obligations with the franchises and therefore, keeping both these things in mind, a structured solution in the next 2-3 years can be found, which will be more or less acceptable to all the stakeholders."

WILL THE HUGE SUPER CUP FINES BE REDUCED?

Seven I-League clubs - Mohun Bagan, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala FC, Minerva Punjab FC, NEROCA and Quess East Bengal - had boycotted the Super Cup 2019 in an attempt to force Patel to meet with them.

Aizawl, Gokulam and Minerva, who were supposed to play the qualifiers of the tournament, travelled to Bhubaneswar and stayed there but did not turn up for their matches.

Post this boycott, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das told the eight I-League clubs (including champions Chennai City FC, who were part of the boycott till then) that the AIFF president will meet them between April 10-14.

The I-League clubs then asked the tournament to be restarted from the qualifiers but AIFF outrightly denied that. Upon this development, seven of the clubs except Chennai City FC, decided to boycott the whole tournament.

They were levied fines by the AIFF Disciplinary Committee for the same but recently, the amount was increased. Mohun Bagan's matter is still with the Disciplinary Committee as they did not register their team. Upon being asked whether the matter of these fines was discussed in the meeting, both parties answered in negative.

"Super Cup fines are not something we discussed because that is not an issue for the development of Indian football. We are talking about the way forward. These are petty matters and we feel we did the right thing so we will get justice," Dutta said.

Churchill Brothers representative Valanka Alemao said they did not want to divert from the issue at hand.

Patel, however, said AIFF would never meddle into the matters of the Disciplinary Committee. "Super Cup fines topic was not part of the meeting because that is a judicial matter and AIFF would not interfere in that," Patel concluded.

"Whatever is to happen will take place till the July 9, when the Executive Committee Meeting takes place. On 9th, everything will be crystal clear.

"We six clubs will now sit together and discuss the matter and if we feel we need to give a joint-statement tomorrow, we will do that after we have spoken to the management and have a finalised idea," Dutta said.

July 9 is the date to be marked then.

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