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Now that the Indian Super League season has ended, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has turned towards holding another edition of the I-League. Yet the upcoming tournament, which commences in January, will be seen in its current avatar for the last time, as the planned product of the ISL-I-League merger is expected to be held immediately after the U-17 World Cup that ends in October 2017.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das confirmed that it has set up a ‘task force’, with the involvement of AFC and FIFA officials, to guide the proceedings of the merger.
“We’ve formed a task force with the AFC, with a representative also from FIFA involved to guide on the issue,” Das said in Mumbai at a marketing event for the U-17 World Cup.
He informed that the new calendar involves a longer edition of the ISL, which includes two divisions and may kick off in November. Significantly, the merged tournament will see many longstanding I-League clubs relegated to the lower division without any scope for promotion for a few seasons. “The problem is that there are certain aspects of the ISL, or the top league, which need to be followed. Unfortunately, some of the legacy clubs have not been able to create that fanbase (compared to ISL clubs). That’s why we are allowing them to participate in the next league (second division), make a sustainable model for them, create a fanbase, and then come up. For sometime, there will not be promotion or relegation, but in due course it’ll be an open league. It won’t be a closed league,” he added.
Having a FIFA representative in the task force will be useful for the AIFF in securing permission from the world governing body to conduct a closed league, albeit on a temporary basis. Countries such as Australia, USA and the Philippines have previously applied for and have been granted permission to hold closed leagues for their prime domestic tournaments.
Increasing the duration of the more popular, yet short-term, ISL may also prompt famous names in world football not to consider coming to India for a longer format. Before the third season of the ISL, Mumbai City marquee player Diego Forlan had mentioned that the shorter duration attracts big-name players who are towards the end of their careers.
Das stated that a short league has its own setbacks. “Some players said that they travel more than they train. You should be training and then playing weekend matches. It’s the format followed the world over,” he said.
Given the long list of considerations that need to be made – including the fact that several I-League clubs have pulled out from the tournament after facing the prospect of being forced to play in the lower league – the AIFF has set up a March 2017 deadline for the task force to prepare a plan. “We are trying our best to get this off the ground next season, but complications are there,” Das added.