The report also suggests improvements and changes to the 15-year deal AIFF signed with IMG-Reliance in 2010.
In a report published by Hindustan Times last year, it was revealed that AIFF needs to expedite its plans of merging the ISL and the I League into a single top division league starting with the 2019-20 season, as per a FIFA-backed report.
Alex Philips of AFC was seconded by UEFA and he prepared a 17-page long report. It was also backed by Nic Coward, a FIFA consultant and the report clearly recommends a 16 team football league with a two-team relegation structure being accommodated by 2022-23. It also overviews and rules out some of the current arrangements that ISL clubs have regarding the 10-year exemption from relegation deal and also suggests improvements and changes to the 15-year deal AIFF signed with IMG-Reliance in 2010.
The catch of the report lies in the fact that should India fail to apply this single league structure by the next season, all Indian clubs will face an Asian ban.
The plan suggests that the top division of the league has 12 teams, that will include 10 teams from the ISL, with at least one of the added teams being the I-League champions of 2018-19. By accommodating the I-League champions, the plan seeks to establish a clear promotion link. The report also recommends growing ISL but “on an open and clear basis.”
And as for the second team, if in any case, it is not the team that ended up runners-up in this season’s I League, it will be chosen on an open tender basis, as per the report titled ‘The Sustainable Development of Top-level Indian Club Football — A Road Map.’
Therefore, according to the report, adding two teams from the I League every year will see the league being expanded to 16 teams by 2023 by the latest following which promotion-relegation battle will involve the bottom two teams. This is at loggerheads to the current ISL arrangement that grants a 10-year immunity from relegation to all ISL clubs starting forth 2014.
“It is understood that this is earlier than 10 years, but we do not consider that this should be material for the original ISL teams or even the later additions,” the authors said.
ISL teams are said to compromise on the basis of stopping the pay of franchise fees once relegation starts as teams already par Rs 12-18 crore fee every season for playing in the ISL.
The plan also scraps the one-city-one-team arrangement of the ISL from 2019-20. This will clear the way for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, two of India’s oldest and most prestigious clubs, both based in Kolkata. Former ISL champions ATK are also from Kolkata.
The report also suggested a similar expansion plan for the second division which is also to hold 16 teams. The rights for both leagues will be with a company like FSDL, according to the road map, with the AIFF being paid for them. “The Founding Agreement will be a renegotiation of the existing AIFF/IMGR/FSDL agreement,” the report said.
“We have not received the final report from the AFC and we would not like to comment on any report made by individuals,” said an AIFF official who asked not to be named given the sensitive nature of the issue.
The road ahead for a peaceful and fair future of India football seems tough at the moment with a lot of corporate interests and haggling being involved, but one should hope that the FIFA report makes it mandatory for football’s highest governing body in the country to not ignore the clubs from I League in favour of the more corporate and media-friendly ISL clubs and to ease this divide soon and with a clear, coherent structure.
Currently, a tussle have been going on between the AIFF and several I-League clubs who have come out protesting and boycotted the Super Cup this season citing ”unfair treatment” from the federation. The clubs have also demanded the federation to reveal the FIFA/AFC strategic plan for Indian football and a meeting with federation president Praful Patel, of which the latter is supposed to take place later this month, yet the former remains at large.
NOTE: The original report is from 2018 and Khel Now is currently trying to get comments from the Apex body over the development of the leagues in the next season.