A few clubs have objected to the governing body’s financial conditions for partaking in the tournament.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has asked ₹2.5 lakhs in the name of a Participation Fee from teams nominated for the forthcoming I-League Qualifiers, Khel Now has learned. The decision has understandably created unrest among some clubs. A few state football associations have written to the federation as well, informing their respective stances.

We also understand that there was a participation fee in place for the I-League Qualifiers last year. However, back then, it was a sum of ₹1 lakh – which the AIFF has now increased by 150%.

The crux of the matter

Khel Now has accessed the letter sent by the AIFF to all clubs, which specifies four requirements that they must compulsorily meet prior to proceeding to the licensing process. They are:

  • The club should pay a one-time fee of INR 2,50,000 (Two Lacs Fifty Thousand Rupees) to the AIFF, as a Participation Fee for the Qualifiers (the “Participation Fee”), on or before 11:59 pm of 11th August 2021.
  • In addition to the Participation Fee, the club should submit a Bank Guarantee to the AIFF for an amount of INR 25,00,000 (Twenty Five Lacs Rupees), on or before 11:59 pm of 14th August 2021.
  • The club must submit a duly signed Club Licensing Agreement (the “Agreement”) to the AIFF on or before 11:59 pm of 9th August 2021.
  • The club must submit a duly signed declaration form (“Annexure 1“), regarding the forfeiture of the Bank Guarantee in certain circumstances, on or before 11:59 pm of 14th August 2021. 

The federation have also written that clubs should fulfill all the above guidelines, for them to proceed further with their licensing process. According to them, failure to do so will result in cancellation of the nomination.

As mentioned already, some clubs and their state FAs have expressed unhappiness with the above rules. In a letter addressed to the AIFF, Football Delhi pointed out that the financial conditions mentioned for the clubs are “extreme and unfair” given their current economic scenario. They also requested the national governing body to reconsider the requirements.

I-League Qualifiers
Football Delhi’s letter to AIFF as accessed by Khel Now

COVID-19 and other factors have placed Indian football clubs in financial trouble. The teams nominated for the I-League Qualifiers are not immune to this either. Hence, its the AIFF’s duty to organize these leagues and tournaments. “It is not hard for them to do so, considering how they have a sponsorship deal with FSDL, money from Sports Authority of India (SAI) and a grant from FIFA,” sources close to an unnamed club informed Khel Now.

They further added, “A bank guarantee is fine. But, the federation is also asking for a lock-in period, which is not sustainable for us”. It is also worth mentioning here that the bank guarantee criteria was not there for the same competition last year.

Further, the state FAs have questioned the timing of the AIFF’s letter citing the conditions. They feel that they should have received it well before the start of the season.

According to another clause in the federation’s letter, the federation will select the 10 clubs with the highest net worth, to take part in the I-League Qualifiers – in case there are more than 10 clubs who meet all the criteria required for the licensing process. This implies that, instead of making a merit-based decision as per various state leagues, the AIFF will use just net worth to select the final 10 clubs that will feature in the competition.

Response from AIFF

AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das told Khel Now that the federation will be bearing all the expenses of the I-League Qualifiers.

“The I-League Qualifiers will take place inside a bio-bubble in Bengaluru, in September. As a result, there is absolutely no possibility of allowing more than 10 teams. The All India Football Federation will be paying for all costs,” he said. Das’ statement was confirmed by I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, who further added that the increase in fee from ₹1 lakh to ₹2.5 lakhs is because of the above decision.

“Last season the I-League Qualifiers had two rounds. The first was a preliminary round, which did not take place inside any bio-bubble. The clubs bore all expenses in that phase. Only the final round was played in the bio-bubble in Kolkata,” Dhar said.

He further added, “This season, however, there will only be one round which will be held in the bio-bubble. Clubs will not have to spend anything since AIFF is bearing all the expenses.”

When asked about the importance of the bank guarantee, Dhar said, “There is not much gap between the Qualifiers (September) and the I-League (December). We have asked clubs to give us the bank guarantee. This is so that we can determine which clubs have the capacity to play in the I-League.

“If a club that cannot pay the bank guarantee are promoted to the I-League, it will be impossible for them to participate in the league. The expenses will be much higher than the qualifiers. The bank guarantees will also be returned to the clubs, once the tournament is over,” he further clarified.

Choosing net worth over merit

Sunando Dhar also spoke about choosing net worth over merit as qualification criteria. He pointed towards the practicality of such an approach.

“All the 29 clubs that have earned nominations have done well in their respective state leagues. Those clubs have been nominated by state FAs only because they are the best there. Meanwhile, financial criteria is equally important. We have to know if these clubs have enough money to play in the I-League, if and when they earn a promotion,” he revealed.

Will AIFF change its decision?

“We have to be rational in our approach. The expenses in the I-League are much higher than the bank guarantee the league committee have asked for. Many clubs have written to us stating that they have no objection in paying the participation fee as well as the bank guarantee,” Dhar said. The I-League CEO also revealed that he was unaware of clubs writing to the AIFF regarding any unhappiness over their moves.

“We need only 10 clubs that are ready to pay the participation fee and give the bank guarantee,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Kushal Das said, “If a club cannot pay a moderate participation fee, then they should not aspire for I-League. We can’t continue like this. We have to take it to the next level, especially after the success of the Indian Super League (ISL).”

Clubs’ Comments

“We are small clubs. We are running these clubs because of our passion for football. And now, AIFF is telling us that money is the first factor to select clubs. This is not good sign for Indian football,” the owner of a club said, when approached for comment.

“We understand the purpose of AIFF’s participation fee. There is nothing we can do, apart from paying the amount. We love football and cannot leave the game,” another club official commented.

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