Two-time champion Churchill Brothers of Goa, along with Shillong-based Rangdajied United, Kolkata’s United SC and Mohammedan Sporting were Wednesday expelled from the I-League for the next season. The AIFF action comes after these clubs failed to meet the crucial Asian Football Confederation (AFC) club-licensing guidelines.
The clubs will not be allowed to take part in the I-League, which begins in December and the Federation Cup, scheduled in May next year. Interestingly, these teams were relegated to second division last season.
They can return to the top-flight via I-League 2, where they will be granted entry only if they meet the norms. Newly-promoted side Royal Wahingdoh of Shillong, too, haven’t fulfilled the guidelines but they have been given one year extension.
The expulsion of these clubs means the next season’s I-League will feature only 10 teams. The AIFF is hoping to get corporates, for which tenders have been floated. Two corporates have so far shown interest and the AIFF is likely to extend the deadline of submission of bids to June 30.
It still unclear whether Churchill, who are the reigning Federation Cup champions, will play in the AFC Cup. Churchill had reached the pre-quarters and quarterfinals of the last two editions of the continental championships.
“We will take up the issue with the AFC and also discuss with the executive committee in its next meeting,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said.
All four clubs have several national team players on their roster – especially Churchill and Rangdajied and quite a few are also contracted to IMG-Reliance for the Indian Super League. They are likely to be picked up by other clubs during the off season.
The AIFF have earlier expelled Air India and ONGC from top division after they failed to comply to the norms. However, they have been granted one-time exemption to 13 clubs last May when every I-League team except Pune FC has failed to pass the test.
The federation looks at five areas before granting license to clubs — financial, legal, infrastructure, personnel and sporting. The clubs need to have proper youth development structure that includes age-group teams, youth coaches, infrastructure and professional people running the club.
However, four of the 13 teams have failed to meet the criteria despite extension and two others — Mumbai FC and Shillong Lajong — have been granted national license as they do not have AFC ‘A’ class stadiums.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said the clubs did not take the process and it couldn’t have continued the same way.
“This has been going on for some time now. Licensing criteria was established in 2008-09. Each time we have explained the clubs that it needs to be followed to have a proper, professional league. Last year we have given them one-time exemption and have also conducted workshops,” Das said.
“We need to take a call at some point or else the AFC will de-recognise us as a league and we will lose our AFC club competitions slot.”
The teams are likely to appeal the decision but are waiting for an official communication from the AIFF, which they expect to receive on Thursday.
“We will see what has to be done only after we receive the letter from the AIFF. We need to see which areas we haven’t fulfilled only then can we decide on the future course of action,” a Churchill official added.
Mohammedan’s assistant general secretary Raju Ahmed termed its a conspiracy. “It’s a pre-planned move by the AIFF. We have fulfilled all the criteria which they have asked us and yet we have been expelled. We will look at the detailed copy and then lodge an appeal,” Ahmed added.