The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) proposed a roadmap, which involves the inclusion of two I-League clubs in 2020/2021 season, as a probable solution to end the ongoing structural turmoil between the domestic leagues of India, in a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday.
— #IndianFootball (@India__Football) October 14, 2019
AIFF had invited the clubs of both the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League to attend the meeting at the AFC headquarters to discuss the future, in the presence of Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) officials.
Providing a solution to the four-month-long tussle between AIFF and I-League, the meeting proposed a roadmap from the 2019/20 season to the 2024/25 season. According to it, ISL still remains the top-tier league of the country, with gradual inclusion of the I-League clubs into the mix.
Year 1 (2019/20): Existing setup to continue in ISL, with no promotion and no relegation.
Year 2 (2020/21): Two I-League clubs to included in ISL by the end of the season.
Year 3 (2021/22): League format and name to be changed as per AIFF’s diktat, to be implemented from 2022/23.
Year 4 (2022/23): Winner of I-League to be promoted, with no relegation without including any franchise fee. The promoted team, even with fulfilled licensing criteria, will not receive a share from the central revenue pool.
Year 5 (2023/24): Same as 2022/23.
Year 6 (2024/25): Introduction of only one league, with promotion and relegation, and one knockout cup by AIFF.
In a nutshell, the ISL, assuming its top-tier status, will be open for I-League winners from the 2022/23 season onwards, which will be rebranded into a new one with both promotion and relegation in the 2024/25 season. The AIFF will also organise one knockout tournament from that particular season.
The AFC statement is not clear on the participation fee issue but AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said the two clubs will have to pay the fee.
“Whichever two clubs (open for inclusion in the ISL) will have to pay the participation fee. This is also according to FIFA recommendation,” Das told PTI.
The proposed roadmap reconfirms that the ISL winners will get an AFC Champions League playoff spot from this season itself, while the I-League winners will be given the AFC Cup playoff slot.
The former I-League champions Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj, who had earlier vociferously opposed the AIFF’s move to grant ISL the top league status, said he was happy that main concerns of the I-League clubs have been addressed.
“Four clubs are being promoted (to ISL) by four years and then promotion and relegation (in ISL) will start. I consider this as a victory even at the cost of losing the AFC Champions League spot,” he said.
The final Roadmap for @IndianFootball @ILeagueOfficial @IndSuperLeague – finally we see a concrete promotion & relegation plan thanks to @theafcdotcom @FIFAcom for making sure – even if it is after 4 years ! pic.twitter.com/v9aIsaIVq5
— Ranjit Bajaj (@THE_RanjitBajaj) October 14, 2019
“Everyone has to put the good of Indian football at the forefront and take the best decisions to develop Indian club football. The AFC will be very much involved to ensure the growth of the game to the next level with the pathway to a single league,” AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said in a statement.
“Every point of this package has been thought out extremely carefully and it is aimed simply at providing the best chance to develop Indian club football. We have informed AIFF that 10-12 teams are not enough for the top League, it must be bigger. I am sure that if this roadmap is considered further, then Indian football will see the benefits for the game. We are now all working together to deliver the best future,” he added.
Kushal Das said the proposed roadmap was in the best interest of all stake holders in Indian football.
“We have to be financially sustainable and take into consideration all commercial and contractual aspects of this plan because commerce is key to football… footballing legacy and investment are equally important for the development of Indian football,” Das added.
Mohun Bagan secretary Debashish Dutta said that his club is happy with the roadmap of Indian football.
“We have been fighting for it for a long time for a proper roadmap of Indian football and today we are successful. After five years there will be one league with promotion and relegation and that they (I-League winners) can play without franchise fee from the fourth year, it’s the biggest achievement for Indian football,” Dutta said.
Although details about participation fee amount, parachute for forcefully relegated clubs, fixture scheduling etc. are yet to be clarified, the protests of the I-League clubs can be considered to be put to a stop.
Officials of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj had attended the meeting in the Malaysian capital.