The I-League, already reeling from clubs pulling out last season, was dealt a further blow on Friday when former champions Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa decided to exit the premier football competition. The AIFF, in a media release, termed it a ‘knee jerk’ reaction.
Following the joint-statement by the clubs from Goa, the I-League for 2016-17 could be reduced to seven teams. Unless, the AIFF decides to keep demoted Aizawl FC in and allow more than one team to be promoted from the second division apart from Dempo who have already been promoted to the top tier. “That is a possibility we cannot discount. But trust me, there will be an I-League in 2016-17,” said an AIFF official. The official requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media on this.
The clubs’ decision comes after the AIFF and its commercial partners IMG-Reliance shared with clubs the proposal to amalgamate the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League into a new competition which would have three tiers and would begin after the under-17 World Cup in 2017. For now, the first tier would be closed, meaning there would be no promotion or relegation. The meeting was held in New Delhi on May 17.
"… It is clear that the proposal is highly discriminatory, goes against sporting merit, is unworkable for I-League clubs and hampers Goa, which is the best represented state in the I-League, the most," the clubs said in a statement.
"Therefore rather than waiting for another year to face the inevitable, Salgaocar Football Club and Sporting Clube de Goa have decided to take the painful decision to withdraw from the forthcoming edition of the I-League," said the statement. The clubs also said the proposals were disheartening, shocking and biased against I-League clubs. The statement also pointed out that the AIFF has till date termed the ISL as only a tournament suggesting that the new league would be a shift in its stance.
Reacting to this, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said: “It was clearly stated that the shared draft was only a proposal and we would like suggestions from various stakeholders…So the assumption made by the clubs that AIFF has not responded is presumptuous and speculative.”
Das acknowledged the contributions of these clubs but said “it was also evident that they were unable to create a fan base to sustain themselves.”