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Told Take Whatever You Get: Future of I-League Clubs Hangs in Balance As AIFF Meets on ISL Elevation

I-League clubs await for future course of action as All India Football Federation's Executive Committee Meeting Takes Place in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Abreshmina Sayeed Quadri |

Updated:July 9, 2019, 4:41 PM IST
Told Take Whatever You Get: Future of I-League Clubs Hangs in Balance As AIFF Meets on ISL Elevation
Seven I-League clubs said they will not accept the demotion of I-League. (Photo Credit: Twitter/Mohun Bagan)

New Delhi: The future of the six I-League clubs, who stayed defiant against the compromises suggested by All India Football Federation (AIFF) in its effort to make the Indian Super League the top league of the nation, is in limbo as the federation holds the Executive Committee Meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday to decide on the status of the two tournaments.

The tangled mess between AIFF, I-League and Indian Super League does not seem anywhere close to getting resolved. I-League (National Football League before that) has long been the top division league and its clubs - Mohun Bagan, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Real Kashmir FC, Chennai City FC, Neroca FC, Shillong Lajong FC, and Quess East Bengal - are against the change.

In their meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel on July 3, 2019, they were told by Patel that their concerns will be taken up but they can't get the AFC Champions League (ACL) spot.

According to rules, the ACL spot belongs to the top division league of a country while the winners of the knockout competition of a country get the AFC Cup spot. I-League clubs were being offered the AFC Cup spot as a compromise.

"The name says it all, AFC Cup is a tournament while ACL is for the league champions. How can you give us a Cup slot when we have been a league for over two decades? We had so many cup tournaments before like Federation Cup and Rovers Cup, can you kill it all for money?" Valanka Alemao, senior official of Churchill Brothers told News 18.com.

"There is a code of discipline and we respect Mr Patel so we didn't say anything right after the meeting. I'm sure he must have tried but I don't know what the contractual obligations are. Everyone has to come out in a transparent manner and have a dialogue. I can't be having a dialogue with the federation and they say 'we will have to speak to our commercial partners and then I can get back to you'. It looks like we have done nothing for Indian football. Patience is a virtue but everything has a limit and we can't be costing so many livelihoods," Valanka added.

The AIFF had envisioned the IPL-style football league in 2010. ISL came into being in 2014, a closed franchise-based tournament, that requires an entry fee of Rs 15 crore.

"IPL is played by the best in the world but involves players from very few nations. Football is global and involves over 200 countries. We cannot afford to get a Ronaldo or a Messi in India for ISL. You can't cut-copy-paste a cricket tournament model into football. Football is a different game altogether and you can't kill an ecosystem," Valanka said.


After the meeting with Patel, the I-League clubs had to respond to the AIFF president's proposals. The clubs, in a joint-statement, accepted that parallel league could run for another three years but rejected the idea that they would give up their ACL spot.

They also demanded less intervention from the commercial partners of AIFF and called for setting up a committee involving all stakeholders so the future roadmap could be made.

The AIFF has chosen not to respond to their demands so far. On Tuesday, their future will be decided behind closed doors at the Executive Committee Meeting.

"We don't get money to run our clubs, we are paying from our pockets itself. Even the subsidies are not much. We are not at the mercy of anyone. It is not politics, it is football, it is a sport. And if you want a sport to grow, you have got to be inclusive," Valanka expressed.


Earlier in the year, the I-League clubs had submitted a detailed roadmap to AIFF where 20 clubs could together play the top-division league with relegation and promotion, as is the norm around the world. On Thursday as well, when I-League clubs responded to Patel's proposals, they made a similar suggestion.

"Places like Goa, Assam and Mumbai have torrential rains which is not the ideal time to play football and it means we only have good six-seven months to play a national league. What we are saying is that the players, national or local, must be able to play at least 45 matches to be at the highest level. We are not playing even 25 matches right now. So, what is the fight for? We have contributed so much for Indian football, we have nurtured talent and we are all reputed clubs and you are telling us that we will be demoted to the second division, it doesn't make sense. I can't be bound by a third-party contract that the federation entered into," Valanka further said.

With AIFF not responding and the Executive Committee Meeting hanging like a sword over their heads, the I-League clubs knocked the door of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In their letter to the PM, the clubs asked the government to look into the functioning of AIFF and stated the issues they have been facing.

"There is no dialogue and we are being told 'take whatever you get'. We all have our own identities and we spend so much behind the clubs and you don't even show respect for what we do. I do not understand. And nobody wants to go to the Court but if they push us like that then who else do we go to for justice?"

"I don't think it has ever happened in the history of Indian football that the clubs are united and are talking facts now otherwise nobody would have written to the Prime Minister. We all have hopes.

"Such big clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are also involved, you can't say that all our contribution means nothing. Football existed, how? This is all down to egos."

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