The ongoing tussle between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and I-League clubs have witnessed a significant rise over the past couple of days. This development comes just days after AIFF general secretary Kushal Das’s publicly acknowledged Indian Super League (ISL) as the country’s main league. Since the inception of ISL in 2014, the tensions have been mounting among the stakeholders of the clubs who are not part of the lucrative football league.
How did it start?
In 2014 during the inaugural edition of ISL, AIFF president Praful Patel had said that this tournament will serve as a platform for the development of the sport in India. He had then also stated that I-League will remain the top football league. However, after witnessing a significant rise in the popularity of ISL since its inaugural edition, the stance of the federation has changed.
The latest reports indicate that AIFF is likely to induct ISL as the country’s premier league in an Executive Meet on July 3. The federation’s general secretary Das also justified the decision behind this move and stated that due to an agreement penned in 2010, ISL will be made the “most senior and prestigious” competition of Indian football.
I- League club representatives met today in Delhi to discuss the future course of action in light of recent developments in Indian football. They had a very fruitful discussion in this matter. Please find below the joint statement issued in this regard. pic.twitter.com/dJeT1AaSa0
— Mohun Bagan (@Mohun_Bagan) 24 June 2019
Meanwhile, during this period, six new clubs have entered the I-League and have been actively participating in the competition until last season. Three among those six clubs have already won the competition and players from these teams have also represented the country.
I-League owners on current situation
Ranjit Bajaj, the owner of 2018 I-League champions Minerva Punjab, has voiced his concern over the rising tensions between the federation and the I-League clubs. Terming the federation as ‘fraud’, Bajaj was quoted by Scroll.in as saying, “We joined the league after 2014. If you had made up your mind that ISL was going to be the top league, you should have at least told us. We have invested a lot in the last few years to get the club at this level so that we can compete at the highest level, not be a part of a closed second-tier league. This is fraud.”
Meanwhile, Gokulam Kerala CEO, Dr Ashok Kumar during an interaction with Scroll.in said, “We have been told in June that the season will progress as planned and the status-quo would be maintained. For a club like us, we need to plan well in advance, so we have started our preparations for next season.”
Current I-League champions Chennai City FC on Wednesday also wrote to the federation requesting to grant them an invitation to the Executive Committee meeting on July 3. In the letter addressed to general secretary Das, the club also mentioned that are yet to receive the allotted prize money for winning the I-League 2018-19. They also shared the documents on their official Twitter handle.
— Chennai City FC🏆 (@ChennaiCityFC) 25 June 2019
“It is imperative that we inform you that any decision you take in this regard not only affects 10 football clubs and their owners but over 300 registered professional football players, more than 200 qualified technical and support staff, countless aspiring youth coaches and volunteers and numerous young boys across the country who hope for a platform to showcase their potential,” stated the letter.
I-League club protest
As a part of the ongoing protest against the AIFF, all I-League clubs excluding Real Kashmir FC initially refrained from participating in the 2019 Indian Super Cup. AIFF miffed by this move had imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the clubs, however, East Bengal were fined half the amount and Mohun Bagan escaped the penalty. The fine was later increased to 27 lakh. The treatment by AIFF drew immense criticism from the I-League clubs. However, the decision on the penalty is yet to be taken as the clubs have appealed against the sanction.
Igor Stimac on the ongoing debate
Speaking on the friction between the I-League clubs and the federation in his first media interaction on May, Igor Stimac said that any conflict is not helpful for the growth of the sport. Comparing both the leagues, the coach of the Indian men’s football team had then said, “ISL is a league mostly privatised, with private owners and all the clubs investing money. I-League has been there for more years and has the tradition, which ISL cannot buy. So working on those things on how it can be matched together, I-League clubs need to speed up in their progression and ISL needs to be a part of the tradition.”
He added, “I’m happy because ISL is most about competitive playing at the moment and in I-League most of the young players are developing.”