Khel Now reveals the true story about the drama ongoing behind the scenes in the scheduling of I-league 2017-18.
If you’ve been following Indian football, you know that the current scenario is a two-faced sword for Indian football’s governing body, the All India Football Federation. At one side is India’s premier league, the I-league, that started in 2007 and is set to be played parallel to the Indian Super League in November, but there’s no official scheduled as of yet.
Also, there’s a three-page scheduled for the Indian Super League already out, but there’s no clarity about the same for the I-league. Moreover, the tenth team (AIFF’s flagship project with the U-17 lads) still doesn’t have an official name but is tentatively named ‘Indian Arrows’.
What’s more, yesterday’s Delhi High Court ruling setting aside the election of AIFF President Praful Patel has only served to add more fuel to an already raging fire. The court ruled Patel’s election invalid as it did not follow the National Sports Code. So, let’s get this straight, less than a fortnight away from the proposed start of the new league season Indian football’s governing body is effectively in administration, one of its participating teams does not have an official name and there is still no certainty as to whether the league will go ahead according to the announced schedule. Is this the best way to build on the mega success of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Khel Now sources that were present in the meeting that involved AIFF and the I-league clubs’ management said that all the clubs have wanted to postpone the league from the proposed date i.e. the first week of November. Gokulam FC have also been renamed as Malabar FC, as it looks at the moment.
“Mohun Bagan want the I-league to be postponed because Sony Norde has not arrived yet, and they said ‘How can you start the I-league without Sony Norde?’. East Bengal want the same because they’ve fixed friendlies with several ISL clubs (FC Goa) later in the month. All other clubs, though, have reasons like – no time for marketing and getting sponsorships, no time to sell club tickets, no time to get the pitches ready and no real time to ensure good preparations,” the source quoted.
The source also added that a high-placed official in the IMG-R group, meanwhile, has told the AIFF that if these clubs postpone the start of the league due to any reason whatsoever, it will be difficult to broadcast the I-league games. Khel Now understands and proves that (as of now) all games will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and the kickoffs will take place at 14:00 PM and 17:30 PM, as proposed in the meeting.
The first game, according to the proposed schedule is set to be played between last season’s top-two, Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC on 09th November-1400 hours at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl. What is even more baffling is the fact that there’s no planned structure running behind, and as it looks, all energies and sensibilities are being applied to make Indian Super League the prime show, giving the exclusive Sunday evening slots only to them.
To put things in perspective, ISL games will be played at 5:30 PM and 8:00 PM, running from Wednesday to Sunday. The early evening schedule has been allocated to ISL as well, but only for weekends. That too, only one game will be played at 5:30 on a Saturday (FC Goa vs FC Pune City at the Fatorda on 23rd December). All other evening kick-offs are on Sunday, that is easily the prime-time schedule.
Round 1-2 Fixtures: As presented in the AIFF meeting
See: Round 3-4 Schedule
See: Round 5 Schedule
Reality check: Indian Super League still is India’s No. 2 league with only having an AFC Cup slot. Meanwhile, the I-league winners will get a slot to participate in the AFC Champions League, Asia’s top-notch competition.
After allowing six foreigners to be registered (that’ll certainly see the quality game time for Indian players go down), the I-league management has now deteriorated the quality of the league further, ensuring that there’s no real audience. If you’ve to kill a league, why not just shut it down?
According to the source, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal both raised alarms in the meeting that the grounds will remain empty in line with the proposed time schedules. It is clearly understood that weekday slots are never great in India, even worse in afternoons and early evenings.
This is just the first part of the meeting. Khel Now will bring you several revealing facts in the second part related to the I-league 2nd division clubs, their selections, and the choices that have been made soon.