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ISL set to be India’s top football tier

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has accepted a request from the Indian Super League (ISL) to make its winners eligible for the qualifiers slot of the Asian Champions League from this season.

football Updated: Jul 10, 2019 10:23 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
football,isl,indian super league
Bengaluru FC players with the winning trophy during the final of the Hero Indian Super League 2018 ( ISL ).(File photo/PTI)

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has accepted a request from the Indian Super League (ISL) to make its winners eligible for the qualifiers slot of the Asian Champions League from this season. That right was hitherto enjoyed by the champions of the I-League that, having started in 1996 as the National Football League and rebranded in 2007 to its current name, is 18 years older.

After its executive committee meeting here on Tuesday, the AIFF issued a press release which says it will ask the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to “positively consider their request” to give ISL the Champions League qualifiers’ slot, making the closed league India’s top competition.

READ | I-League clubs write to PM, requests him to set up enquiry commission against AIFF

The release does not mention who will get the other Asian slot reserved for India, the one in the continent’s second-tier event AFC Cup. The ISL champions got that berth in the last two seasons.

Ranjit Bajaj, owner of Minerva Punjab FC which won the 2017-18 I-League, said on Twitter that the I-League has been murdered. Given the berth pangs, I-League clubs could move court. “What do we do here? Other than go to court, which we will be doing at the earliest as they have left us with no option,” Bajaj tweeted.

The I-League will continue this season, AIFF president Praful Patel told reporters after the meeting.Pointing out the I-League clubs had taken a contrary stand—such as not agreeing to forego the Champions League slot and asking the Prime Minister to set up an enquiry commission to probe the AIFF—following a meeting with the AIFF on July 3, the federation said it will ask the AFC to send a delegation to meet all stakeholders and decide on a roadmap.

READ | I-League clubs accept Praful Patel’s ‘2-3 years status quo’ proposal but reject ACL slot to ISL

“We hope the meeting can be organised in the next 15 days,” said Patel. After a similar meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, the AFC and Fifa had sent a two-member delegation whose recommendations, including a move to a single league, the AIFF did not implement.

Among the reasons listed by the AIFF for acceding to ISL’s request is that franchises follow a strong grassroots and youth development programme. The claim is at odds with the fact that two franchises have failed to clear criteria for AIFF youth leagues, making them ineligible for this season’s under-13, under-15 and under-19 competitions. Average attendance in ISL has fallen from over 27,000 in 2015 to around 15,000 in 2018-19, but the AIFF has pointed out that it’s still more than that of the I-League which was 10,223 last term.

The other reasons mentioned are that most national team players are with ISL franchises and that the AIFF has to honour its agreement with its commercial partners signed in 2010.

Chhetri, Devi best

Sunil Chhetri and Ashalata Devi were adjudged the best male and female footballers of the past season by the AIFF on Tuesday.

First Published: Jul 10, 2019 10:23 IST