The clubs’ owners have expressed their anger at the federation’s decision to grant the cash-rich league a spot in the AFC Champions League.

On Tuesday, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) finally decided to keep it’s word to the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) and effectively granted the Indian Super League (ISL) the top-league status. By making it official that they’ve relayed to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to give the AFC Champions League Qualifiers spot to the ISL champions, the federation has effectively stripped the I-League of its top-league status after more than a decade of its existence. 

A major part of the Indian football fraternity, especially the I-League clubs were left scathing after months of trying to evade the eventuality. The I-League clubs association had already indicated in the past months that they will take the AIFF to court if it goes through with the move and even wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and make things right.

On the other hand, the AIFF is accelerating towards making the transition official and hopes the AFC will send delegates to interact with the shareholders and FSDL to decide the roadmap for the future of Indian football. The apex body’s president Praful Patel, quoted by the Hindustan Times, said, “We hope the meeting can be organized in the next 15 days.”

The club officials of many revolting I-League clubs have been left in disbelief and enraged at what has gone down. Valanka Alemao, CEO of Goan otfit Churchill Brothers spoke to News18 and said, “The name says it all, AFC Cup is a tournament while ACL is for the league champions. How can you give us a Cup slot when we have been a league for over two decades? We had so many cup tournaments before like Federation Cup and Rovers Cup, can you kill it all for money?”

Further reiterating their frustrations at how things have panned out she explained, “There is a code of discipline and we respect Mr. Patel so we didn’t say anything right after the meeting. I’m sure he must have tried, but I don’t know what the contractual obligations are. Everyone has to come out in a transparent manner and have a dialogue.”

She added, “I can’t be having a dialogue with the federation and they say ‘we will have to speak to our commercial partners and then I can get back to you.’ It looks like we have done nothing for Indian football. Patience is a virtue, but everything has a limit and we can’t be costing so many livelihoods.”

Alemao also explained how the Indian football calendar needs to be broader for proper development and the need to play more matches. She stated, “Places like Goa, Assam and Mumbai have torrential rains, which is not the ideal time to play football and it means we only have good six-seven months to play a national league. What we are saying is that the players, national or local, must be able to play at least 45 matches to be at the highest level.

“We are not playing even 25 matches right now. So, what is the fight for? We have contributed so much for Indian football, we have nurtured talent and we are all reputed clubs and you are telling us that we will be demoted to the second division? it doesn’t make sense. I can’t be bound by a third-party contract that the federation entered into,”she affirmed.

Meanwhile, Ranjit Bajaj, the owner of Minerva Punjab, who has been extremely vocal in pointing out the flaws in the whole ordeal and even leaked the alleged Master Rights Agreement on Twitter last month, was also left infuriated by the turn of events.

He indicated that the AIFF has “murdered” the I-League by degrading it to a second-tier league, while also closing down 27 clubs. Moreover, he added Tuesday to be a “dark day for Indian football” and later promised to take the matter to court.

Speaking to Khel Now the Warriors owner said, “In 2014, He (Praful Patel) said clearly that the ISL is a “booster dose.” Then, in 2017, in an interview he said even if Mohun Bagan and East Bengal go to ISL even then the I-League will remain the top league. At that time he very well knew that he had signed that contract in 2010 and he is saying these things in 2014 and 2017 and always saying that I-League is going to be a top league. This is a clear case of fraud trying to fool the public and football fans.”