The league phase leaders are set to get the coveted AFC Champions League qualifying spot.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) are all set to promote the Indian Super League (ISL) as India’s top division league. The Indian FA have also got FIFA’s approval to run both the ISL and the I-League parallelly, before both the leagues can be merged in future.
According to sources close to the Times of India, the AIFF has filed a formal letter with the AFC general secretary, Dato Windsor John, informing him about the league structure for the competitions in the country from 2019-20 season. The new structure in Indian football holds the ISL as its premier league and also the toppers of the league stage will earn a AFC Champions League playoff spot.
“Unlike in the past, there will be much at stake for teams who finish with the highest number of points at the end of the league stage. The league winners will be rewarded with a place in the AFC Champions League playoff, while the semi-finalists will battle for the prize money of ₹8 crore. A formal letter has already been sent to AFC,” said a senior official of the apex body.
However, with India’s ineligibility to secure two spots in Asia’s premium continental championship, the I-League winner until now was handed the AFC Champions League playoff spot. But, as things stand, the I-League sides will have to settle with a spot in the AFC Cup Qualifiers. The AFC Cup is Asia’s lower-tier tournament, just behind the AFC Champions League. But, amidst the saga, none of the Indian clubs have crossed the hurdle and played in the AFC Champions League group stage until now.
“AIFF has told AFC that a consultative process is needed to decide who plays in the AFC Cup Qualifiers. AIFF President Praful Patel has made this suggestion of I-League winners taking the second continental spot, but there is no confirmation as of now,” added the AIFF official.
AFC has not responded to AIFF’s new proposed plan, but FIFA’s apparent backing has given added confidence to the apex body’s officials about their move.
“It’s only a matter of days before AFC gives its stamp of approval,” said the official. Six I-League clubs including Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Minerva Punjab, NEROCA FC, Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala had written a petition to FIFA about the alleged unfair treatment of the clubs by the Indian FA, but in their response, FIFA have appeared to back the Indian FA to look after the best interests of the clubs.
“We understand that the AIFF President has met the clubs and suggested a short-term solution, until a more sustainable long-term solution can be found. We therefore, strongly believe that the AIFF is best placed to do this and we are confident that a thorough and effective process can be managed by the AIFF, in its role as the governing body for football in India,” FIFA acting deputy general secretary Mattias Grafstrom wrote in a letter to the I-League clubs on Wednesday.