There has been speculation about the Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan possibly gaining entry to the ISL next season.
The I-League has been Indian football’s top-tier league for over a decade now, but that might end from next season onwards, according to I-League CEO Sunando Dhar. He spoke to Navhind Times about the future of the league, saying, “This could be the last edition of the I-league. It is looking that way and unless something happens in the intervening months, we are looking at the last edition of the I-league.”
There has been rampant speculation about the future of the league, after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) roadmap ordered the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to decide on its top league and sanction a merger as soon as possible. There has been speculation about the Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan possibly gaining entry to the ISL next season, effectively clearing the path for it to gain top flight status.
According to Dhar, the I-League will definitely lose its status, if that happens next season. When asked about how the new revamped top league of India will be structured from next campaign onwards he said, “Ideally, a league has to be based on the principle of promotion and relegation. I do not think the new league will be based on this principle because of the contractual obligations in the ISL.”
While the formatting might be the same as the ISL for the revamped league next season, Dhar is confident that a proper promotion/relegation system should be in place soon. He said, “Relegation and promotion may not be possible initially. But, the system should fall in place after some years. The idea is to get a new system in place first and to tweak it later.”
Unless and until there are major changes to the system, it seems we might be witnessing the final season of the I-League. Minerva Punjab, NEROCA FC, Gokulam Kerala and more recently ushered the “SaveILeagueSaveIndianFootball” campaign, which was headed by Minerva’s Ranjit Bajaj.
While there is quite a lot of uncertainty about the I-League’s future, Dhar reassured that the changes won’t affect youth level tournaments, like the Elite League which was won by Minerva Punjab recently.
He explained, “The different age-group tournaments that have been started since the last few years and played by teams from the I-League and ISL will continue next year. The talent seen IN these tournaments has been amazing and the interest amongst all the teams has been tremendous. There will be no different set of age-group tournaments.”
With the I-League title race heating up, after Chennai City dropped points following a thrilling 3-3 draw against NEROCA yesterday, it seems this could be last time we see a title race in India’s top division. With pressure from the AFC and FIFA to create a new league and the influential demeanor of the ISL clubs, many I-League clubs could be demoted to play in the second division from next season onwards.