All India Football Federation president Praful Patel has promised I-League clubs he will approach the Asian Football Confederation to allow them to co-exist with the Indian Super League for the next two years.
Currently there are two separate domestic football leagues in India – the I-League, which since 1996 has been the country’s main club competition, with a system of promotion and relegation; and the ISL, a franchise-based league founded in October 2013 in a joint-venture with company IMG, conglomerate Reliance Industries and broadcaster Star Sports.
Goal.com has reported that the AIFF is going to grant the winners of the ISL an AFC Champions League qualifying slot from next season, relegating the I-League winners to playing in the second-tier AFC Cup. Until now, the winner of the I-League has been Indian domestic football’s representative in the AFC Champions League, and the winner of the ISL entered the AFC Cup playoffs.
Last week, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das’s said the ISL was to become the country’s main league. In a joint statement, the I-League clubs responded: “To be now told that the I-League will no longer be the top league is completely unacceptable and illegal and we pledge to fight this together as one football family which carries the tradition of Indian football.”
Following that statement, I-League representatives met Patel on Wednesday, and he promised to approach the AFC to allow the two leagues to co-exist until a solution is found.
According to the Hindu, Patel said: “With the advent of the ISL, which is also a league recognised by the AFC, it is imperative to find a viable, and sustainable mechanism to mitigate the concerns about the future of the I-League, and its clubs.
“There is a historical issue with Indian football, within that framework, I feel a reasonable two-to-three years window should be given for I-League also to be continuing. I cannot give you any assurance yet because I have to talk to the AFC. The AFC also has to agree to what I am saying. Our commercial partners have to be consulted. At the end of the day, there are costs involved. I feel that the I-League also must co-exist with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product.”
The decision will need the approval of Football Sports Development, a subsidiary of AIFF’s commercial partner IMG-Reliance.
But Patel said that in the long run, India would only have one football league: “We don’t want to pack up the I-League. It should continue. But ultimately there should be a roadmap of Indian football. Two leagues cannot go on permanently. The AFC will also not allow it forever. It is just a solution for the time being.”