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Better late than never: I-league clubs are replicating 2016 in 2019, with renewed vigour

Written by: Punit Tripathi

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Several clubs have taken a firm stance against the AIFF, much like something that Goan clubs had done three years back in 2016.

You must have heard about the ongoing tussle between the AIFF and the I-League clubs. The clubs, from India’s premier league by-the-way, boycotted the Indian Super Cup citing unfair treatment. The clubs, initially seven of them (nine later), included Minerva Punjab, Gokulam Kerala, recently crowned champions Chennai City, East Bengal, Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC and Mohun Bagan. The footballing entities informed of their decision through a letter sent to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das.

Arguably the bad-boy of Indian football, Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj, claimed recently that the clubs had written to the AIFF multiple times, but were yet to receive any word from the highest governing body in India football.

The clubs pointed out that they are being neglected in all aspects by the country's football federation. Eight I-League clubs had written a letter to the AIFF in February this year regarding multiple concerns, such as the future of the I-League, but they are yet to hear back from the apex body.

What is this confusion about, then? Is this something new that is the cause trouble to the peaceful waters flowing below the bridge over which Indian football flourishes?

Sadly, it isn’t. In 2016, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa, two of the more successful clubs from Goa, ditched the I-league, protesting the AIFF’s lack of vision in the future roadmap to restructure domestic football in India. Dempo SC, the most successful I-league club since the league came into existence in 2007, followed suit. Something must have been wrong. Something must have been amiss.

Churchill Brothers persisted. The club, owned by Alemao, released a statement announcing that they would continue their participation to ensure Goa’s representation in the national league. Three summers later, Churchill would probably be repenting his decision, looking at this déjà vu. Indian football stands at the same loggerhead, again.

Are Bajaj and Rohit Ramesh, two leading figures of the current revolution, better convincers than their Goan counterparts from 2016? We will let you ponder on that question.

India, though, had a chance to wage this war three summers, and close to ₹300 crores earlier. Had these clubs (most of them were in fact part of the league back then as well) stepped on the side of the Goan clubs that had flag-beared Indian football’s success for the longest time, they would have saved some crucial time and the right changes may have been put in place by now.

But as they say, better late than never. Some clubs have registered their sides for the upcoming Super Cup, some haven’t, as we await. Mohun Bagan, one of the best Indian clubs ever, have decided to not participate in the tournament.

In 2017, AIFF President Praful Patel had talked about the Goan clubs and the situation at hand in an exclusive with the Times of India. “I would be happy to see them back. They should come back to the league,” Patel had said back then. Did he do anything to bring about what he preached? Quite evidently, no.


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The ISL stands on the threshold of becoming India’s #1 league, congratulations to it. It is a privately-owned entity, founded and managed by Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), a company managed by Reliance Industries. This is exactly what Shivanand Salgaocar, Shrinivas Dempo and Peter Vaz had taken a stand against on June 26, 2016 - this is similar to what clubs are revolting to, right now.

I-league clubs, now, have even put in a list of suggestions for a ne-found league for next season, completely in line with AFC regulations and a win-win for all. Will the AIFF give in to that? Looking at the history, it doesn’t bode well.

Khel Now has recently published an article highlighting how the system of the Indian Super League, until it is tweaked, is at fault in lieu with Article 9 of FIFA’s Regulations. If it is to be made the top tier, it could be dragged to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a case that could eventually see India lose its position on AFC’s radar and one that could go either way, but looks decisively in favour of the I-league.

Jumping back to 2016, we try to imagine the situation had I-league clubs, back then, joined hands with the Goans in the revolution. Things would’ve been so much better by now (if it is to be) and Indian football could’ve saved three years for itself. For its incubation, for its own growth and for the long road it envisages ahead to reach the top echelons of Asian football.

Published: Fri Mar 29, 2019 02:43 PM IST

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