I-League must exist with AFC recognition: Praful Patel
Happy to have got the ear of Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), and assured that concerns about their future would not be wished away, I-League clubs agreed on Wednesday to work with the federation to find a solution to all issues regarding the domestic season.
In the short-term that could mean the I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) will continue for the next three seasons, subject to approval from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said Patel speaking to reporters after the meeting where I-League CEO Sunando Dhar and AIFF general secretary Kushal Das were also present.
Within that three-year timeframe as a roadmap is worked out, Patel said: “I-League also must co-exist with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product.” Currently, the I-League is recognised as India’s top-flight by FIFA and AFC while, for the purposes of division of AFC tournament slots, the ISL is provisionally listed as India’s cup competition.
The 10 clubs are keen on a written agreement with the AIFF on how the I-League would be run in that time.
There is, however, a lack of consensus among them on whether I-League should cede the Asian Champions League qualifier berth to the ISL, said a club official present at the meeting.
“Let the AFC first agree to our proposal of having the leagues for two or three seasons. Who will play which AFC competition can be decided later. Which Indian club has done well in the Champions League anyway,” said Patel.
The AIFF’s decision-making body, its executive committee, is expected to provide clarity on the matter when it convenes in the national capital on July 9.
A possible solution to get around the perception that the I-League will be second to the ISL, according to officials of the AIFF and clubs who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak to the media, could be highlighting its two divisions, its youth competitions and that its clubs are spread more evenly across India.
The media release termed I-League clubs’ youth programmes as the backbone of football in India. Nobody wants to undermine the I-League; nobody wants to pack it up, said Patel.
Patel also said issues of I-League scheduling and broadcasting — the clubs’ pet peeve since 2017-18 when the leagues began to overlap — would be taken care of. The clubs’ proposal of trying to sell the I-League television rights with the AIFF independent of its commercial partners though may fall through because the agreement between the federation and the partners wouldn’t permit it.