ISL-I League merger imminent from next year: AFC

ISL-I League merger the only way forward: AFC- InsideSport

Indian Super League and the I-League running concurrently is a mere “stop gap” measure. The premier football leagues in the country cannot not co-exist. That is the Asian Football Confederation rule. The AFC has now sounded the alarm – the rule must prevail. Merger of the two leagues is the way forward.

Asian Football Confederation General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John in Kolkata for the FIFA U-17 World Cup has made it clear that the simultaneous running of the ISL and I-League this season was just a stop-gap arrangement and the two will be merged together. The AFC constitution does not allow the member countries to have two national leagues, he has emphasized.

“It’s not a question of what we are favouring. It’s in the AFC constitution that one country should have one league. We just gave provision (for two leagues) for a transition period. That’s all,” Windsor told reporters. “There will be one league for sure,” he said.

All India Football Federation too has confirmed that from the next season onwards there will be only one top-tier league in India. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das, who was accompanying the AFC general secretary, too, reiterated the AFC stand.

Stakeholders welcome the decision, expecting the I-League clubs will not be ignored in the process. “We want amalgamation of I-League and ISL as equal entities. Both the league clubs should have equal opportunities in the new league,” Robert Romawia Royte, owner of the current I-league champions Aizawl FC told insidesport.co.

While the merger has been a point of discussion from a long-time now, veteran soccer administrator and former FIFA development officer for South Asia, Shaji Prabhakaran believes that it is in the best interest of Indian football to have a single top-tier league. “I fully endorse to whatever AFC General Secretary has opined. Having a single league would be best for the future of football in India,” Shaji has told insidesport.co.

Commenting on the league structure post-merger, Shaji said, “It is upto AFC and AIFF to decide the structure of the league. However, in my opinion having seven to nine months league with upto 18-20 clubs would be a great prospect for the sport in India. After hosting the U-17 World Cup the appetite for football is already at an all-time high.”

“Although, the franchise fee is a concern for the clubs and should be scrapped but participation fee depending on the budget of the club can be put in place. The deserving clubs should also be given a chance by avoiding higher fee values,” he added.

AIFF had to put on hold the much-awaited merger as two iconic clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal were not prepared to pay the fixed franchise fee for inclusion in the ISL. The clubs rather sought special consideration for their rich heritage, legacy and service to Indian football over the decades.

The failure to resolve the issue led AIFF to run ISL and I-league simultaneously this year following the AFC intervention and nod.

The AFC is again working to play a mediator and to ensure a smooth transition from the present two leagues to a single league structure. “There were some experts here who have prepared the report, which I’ve not seen yet. On one side, you have the legacy clubs on the other side there are the modern ISL clubs. I’ve to see the report, sit with ISL and discuss what needs to be done. How do we take the best of both for Indian football that should be the focal point rather than talking about merger,” the AFC top official said.

Clarifying the doubts over the franchise fee, AIFF General Secretary added that “the AIFF will make all efforts to have one league from next season. They (Mohun Bagan and East Bengal) have to make a choice. They have to pay up participation fees. It can’t be compromised,” Das said.

InsideSport also tried to reach AFC for the expected league structure and further developments on this but the reply is awaited.

For now, the statements made by the AFC and AIFF seems to be a clear indication that India will be having only one league from the next season. Whether ISL or I-league or a totally different league structure? We will have to see after a blueprint is passed by the governing bodies.