I-League-ISL merger - Unified football league in 2018-19 a possibility: Patel

The FIFA and Asian Football Confederation identify the I-League as the premier tournament of India but it has been left in the shadows of the high-profile Indian Super League, a tournament backed by the national federation’s commercial partners

football Updated: Mar 23, 2017 20:06 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
I-League action between defending champions Bengaluru FC and Aizawl FC. Both teams, with tremendous potential, don’t get to play the ISL.(AIFF )

The elusive merger between I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) could see the light of the day at the start of the 2018-19 season. According to All India Football Federation president Praful Patel, a ‘unified’ national league is not far away.

Talking to Hindustan Times, Patel said, “It is a work in process and until we can put all the pieces together, we cannot reveal the exact nature of the tournament. But, we are trying to make sure that it is in place by next year.”

“We are working towards establishing a new road map for Indian football and whatever format we decide on will be under the guidance of Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA.”, he added. Patel is a top member of both AFC and FIFA.

For long, the I-League has been overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of the IMG-Reliance run Indian Super League. The ISL, like the IPL T20, is a franchise-based tournament where several internationals, past their prime, hog all the spotlight.

Teams like Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, which go on to represent India in international tournaments, are not welcome in the ISL.

There have also been a lot of debate over whether ISL or the I-League should become the main tournament from next year. But, Patel’s answer to that question on Thursday sheds some light on future plans.

Sports minister Vijay Goel with All India Football Federation president Praful Patel during the launch of logo for FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2017 in New Delhi. (PTI)

“There is no question of ending the I-League as it is the national competition which is recognised by FIFA and once we have decided on the format of the new competition, the teams will have to follow AFC regulations in order to compete in the tournament.”

The proposed move can also prove to be a bane for smaller teams in the league as they do not have the same financial strength as the ISL teams or the traditional I-League sides.

As a result, a combined league may see the exclusion of teams like Shillong Lajong, Mumbai FC and current I-League leaders Aizawl FC, all high on potential but low on budgets.

However, Patel said that the proposed merger will be beneficial for all the existing teams.

“The I-League sides have contributed a lot to Indian football and we will like to make all of them very happy,” Patel said.

First Published: Mar 23, 2017 19:11 IST