In an exception to the global norm, India will have two national leagues after it was agreed on Thursday that the I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) will be held simultaneously this season. Following a meeting with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), I-League clubs agreed to a compromise solution, thus ending the impasse that threatened to derail the domestic season. Both leagues, likely to be 10-team affairs, will begin in November. The winner of each competition will get a continental berth. While the I-League champions will get an Asian Champions League playoff slot, the ISL winners will compete in the AFC Cup playoffs. A formal announcement is likely to be made following a league committee meeting in Delhi on July 5.
The breakthrough came after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) gave the green signal to a helpless AIFF to conduct the two leagues. It’s a departure from FIFA’s policy, which allows a country to have just one premier football league. A senior AIFF official said the continental body took note of the ‘unique’ mess Indian football found itself in and realised that forcing a decision would have worsened the problem.
“The AFC Secretariat is prepared to accept the concurrent running of the ISL and I-League as a temporary short term ‘bridging’ solution. The special dispensation has been reviewed and agreed by FIFA,” the AIFF said in a statement. The deal means the I-League will no longer enjoy the status of being the country’s premier championship. Instead, it will now have to fight a weekly battle with the ISL. I-League clubs fear that they will play second fiddle to the ISL, whose owners have deeper pockets and adopt aggressive marketing policies.
To ensure they aren’t run over by the ISL, the I-League clubs laid out certain conditions, which include increase in the number of foreign players, hike in travel subsidies, budget for promotion, and telecast of the league on the same network as the ISL. “They have demanded that all matches should be held on weekends. So if on one weekend, I-League matches are held on Saturday and ISL on Sunday, it should be the other way round the following week,” an AIFF official said. To match the ISL in terms of foreign players, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have demanded that the number of international recruits in an I-League squad be doubled to eight and five foreigners be allowed on the pitch at a time.
At present, I-League follow the 3+1 rule (three foreigners plus one Asian). The proposal has been opposed by several clubs, including reigning champions Aizawl FC, who have argued that more foreigners will reduce opportunities for Indian players. The league committee will take a final call on team composition. The clubs have also demanded an increased allowance. The AIFF currently provides a travel subsidy of Rs 45 lakh per club for the entire season.
That, it has been proposed, should be increased to Rs 70 lakh per club. Additionally, a budget of Rs 2 crore will be set aside for the branding of the I-League. That amount is likely to come from the Rs 3 crore the AIFF will receive from a new team that will be introduced next season. As per their rules, any new team seeking direct entry into the I-League has to pay a franchise fee of Rs 3 crore. Bids for new teams will be invited soon, a federation official said.
The breakthrough came after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) gave the green signal to a helpless AIFF to conduct the two leagues. It’s a departure from FIFA’s policy, which allows a country to have just one premier football league.