The I-League Clubs, who have declined to take part in the Super Cup, may still agree to participate in joint competition with the Indian Super League teams. The All India Football Federation just needs to give them an assurance and a date for a meeting.
The AIFF has not communicated with the I-League franchisees even once during the just-concluded season. Repeated requests by the clubs have failed to even invoke an acknowledgment. The frustrated teams have decided to stay away from the tournament to be played at Bhubaneswar from March 29. First Super Cup qualifier is slated for Friday, March 15.
With the eight teams deciding to stay away, the competition to be broadcast on Star Sports becomes a virtual non-starter. “It may still be saved,” says Kerala Gokulam FC secretary Praveen VC, who in a candid discussion with insidesport.co shared I-League teams’ vision and future plans.
Here are the excerpts:
Praveen VC: You cannot avoid a problem by ignoring it. Dialogue is the solution. We are not seeking a final solution for going into the Super Cup. We are not even reluctant to have the meeting before the Super Cup. But, at least they can respond to our emails. They can at least give us an assurance for a meeting. If the AIFF is not even ready to speak to us, then it becomes a serious issue.
IS: But playing Super Cup is your right. Why shouldn’t the I-League clubs exercise their own right?
PVC: With uncertainty looming large, the I-League clubs are reluctant to make any investment that doesn’t help them in future. Besides a symbolic protest against the All-India Football Federation, the clubs are also not willing to incur any additional costs in the present scenario. Why should we invest when we are kept in the dark about everything. They (the AIFF ) are not even ready to acknowledge our performance. Each of the I-League club will have to spend over ₹ 10 lakh on new kits, travel, boarding, lodging, players fee and team management for playing the Super Cup. There is not return. There are no incentives. We are not even allowed to have sponsors logo. Where is the money in football. The owners are running clubs for they are passionate about the sport. If the authorities don’t even respect that, they snub the people who are keeping the sport alive, then what do you expect from us.
IS: AIFF will be floating an RFP to increase the size of the ISL. That gives some of the I-League clubs an opportunity to merge with the ISL as it is being said there will be only one national football league from the next season. As we all know, it is going to be the ISL.
PVC: We are game for a merger with the ISL. But it has to be for all the 10 I-League clubs. They cannot just pick and choose. Twenty teams is not a giant structure for a national football league. I fail to understand why do you say I-League merger with the ISL. It should be the other way round. We are the national league and we have no issues if ISL is merged with us.
IS: If the AIFF follows the ISL commercial structure, each of the teams will have to pay a heavy franchisee fee. Do you think all the I-League teams will be in a position to afford a financial burden of say ₹ 4-5 crore per annum?
PVC: The Franchisee model for football itself is faulty. Look at all the top flight football leagues in Europe, Americas or Africa. There are no franchisee models. Our contracts have no franchisee fee clause. Then, how can this be imposed upon us now.
IS: Hypothetically speaking, even if the AIFF accepts a 20-team league by merging the I-League and the ISL they cannot relegate the ISL teams as per their existing contracts. That scenario won’t permit the relegation/promotion structure followed by the national football leagues worldwide.
PVC: We understand you (AIFF) have contractual obligations with the ISL franchisees which prevent you from relegating them. So let there be a twenty-team league during the term of the present contracts. Thereafter there might be a 16 team league. Let the lowest four teams go to the second division. These can be teams either from the I-League setup or the ISL. And then you may have a proper promotion-relegation structure from the next season. Let there a 16-team top division then. There are plenty of solutions. Provided you are willing to solve the problem.
IS: I-League clubs have been talking about reporting the matter to the FIFA and the AFC. What will be your course of action if stalemate prevails?
PVC: We will walk any distance to safeguard our interest. The (eight) I-League teams are unanimous. But we are for an amicable solution first. We haven’t approached any external authority so far. But time is running out for us as well. Our first priority is a dialogue. The approach is not reciprocated so far.
We fail to understand what interest does AIFF has in a privately-owned franchisee-based football competition over its own national league. They (the ISL) are not even superior to us in terms of fan base, performance, quality of competition, grassroots football promotion.
Only the AIFF can answer what is their interest in the ISL. Do they fear I-League so much that even the requests for a meeting are not being acknowledged. You look at any city-level club competition, the organizing bodies and the clubs meet to discuss schedule and playing conditions. They stay on the same page. Here it is our national league and there is no communication.
InsideSport take: While the other issues might be complex from the AIFF perspective, it’s difficult to understand what prevents the top football establishment in the country from having a dialogue with the key constituents of the National Football League –the I-League without an iota of doubt.