The Indian Super League was recognized as India’s Premier competition in 2019.

The AIFF final draft constitution, which was submitted to the State Associations as well as FIFA on Wednesday (July 13), suggests that the I-League become the country’s top league.

“Senior-most top division league shall mean the league competition owned, operated, recognised and directly managed by the AIFF, that implements the principles of promotion and relegation, and meets all requirements prescribed by the AFC for being eligible to obtain a direct slot in the Asian Champions League,” read an excerpt from the final draft of the constitution, which creates a dilemma.

Reason for dilemma

In 2019, the roadmap laid down before the AIFF-AFC joint meeting in Kuala Lumpur labelled the Indian Super League (ISL) as the top-tier footballing competition in India. However, former I-League heavyweights Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala have objected to it and informed the Committee of Administrators (CoA) that they haven’t agreed to or signed any document regarding the same.

Since ISL has been considered the ‘top league’, the table-toppers of the competition have participated in the AFC Champions League. Previously, the champions of the I-League and Federation Cup competed in the AFC Cup.

FC Goa (2019/20 ISL toppers) became the first team to play in the AFC Champions League, while Mumbai City (2020/21 ISL toppers) became the first team to secure a victory in the competition.

This final draft, however, states otherwise. If the I-League returns as the country’s top league, the question of participation in the AFC Champions League will be at stake.

Cause of concern

The other alarming point in the AIFF draft constitution is the prohibition of functions/roles (managing a competition) being delegated or assigned to “any other entity or organisation”, which hints at Football Sports Development Limited’s (FSDL) management of the ISL.

FSDL are AIFF’s marketing partners. In 2010, a 15-year Master Rights Agreement was signed between the two parties worth 700 crores, which stated that the upcoming new league (ISL) would be the top-tier league in the country. Ultimately, if there arises a dispute between FSDL and AIFF/CoA, it will be detrimental to the sport in India.

The beginning of the issue

The issue initially came to light a few weeks back when the draft constitution was made by the CoA. It was also put out on Twitter by former Chief Justice Dr. SY Quraishi, who is also a member of the committee.

Article 1, point 33, of that draft clearly stated that “I-League is the senior most top division league competition in India owned, operated and recognised by the AIFF.”

While this has created conflict, it also promises to give back the I-League its lost reputation as the country’s top-tier league.

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