All-India Football Federation president Praful Patel has given another ray of hope to the beleaguered I-League clubs. This though may well be termed a damage control act.
Patel has given an assurance to create a unified league within next three years where the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League clubs will play in the elite and second division respectively with the provision for promotion and relegation of the teams. In an interview with national dailyTimes of India, Patel has revealed that the “AFC won’t accept a closed league for long. We have to bring in promotion and relegation in three years’ time.”
That equation was playing on the AIFF president’s mind when he proposed to both the leagues to maintain status quo for another three years. “It is the reason why I have proposed a three-year status quo for both leagues to run simultaneously despite AFC not willing to allow it. I would request the I-League clubs to strengthen themselves financially and otherwise in this period. So when the merging and integration happens according to AFC regulations, they would be in a better position. I am trying to find a solution and not victimise the clubs. They have to understand that. Right now the I-League clubs needn’t worry about their future,” Patel had told the paper.
Contrary to the status quo assurances, the AIFF granting the premier league status and ticket to the AFC Champions League qualifier to the ISL has not gone well with the I-League Clubs. The team owners of the hitherto official premier football league of India had also threatened to take legal recourse to protect their rights and status. The AIFF president is trying to console them with an even par status with the ISL.
“I am fighting to give I-League clubs a similar platform as the ISL. The AIFF has proposed to show all I-League matches in high definition like ISL with proper timings. Half of the production cost would be borne by marketing partners while the rest will be equally divided by AIFF and clubs. In three years, they will have to find stability and financial partners. Then it would be easier for me to integrate them. I have already given a proposal about the television coverage of I-League to FSDL and AFC. I will do my best to see it happen. The AFC Champions League spot is notional so I have told the clubs to let go of this spot,” said Patel.
However the fact remains that two premier national leagues cannot co-exist in the AIFF or the Asian Football Confederation structure. Even the AIFF President confesses that exception to allow ISL and I-League continue is only for several years. He though promises to fix everything before that.