Crucially, long-time participants Shillong Lajong and new-promoted Real Kashmir are not signatories to the clubs’ latest initiative.

Eight I-League clubs have penned a letter to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), questioning the future of the league amidst reports that the ongoing campaign maybe its last. In a letter written by Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan, the clubs want to seek clarity on the league’s future and have expressed their “anguish and fear” about a plan to “kill the clubs.”

The letter states how the I-League clubs have remained the backbone of Indian football for all these years and they are responsible for producing all the players succeeding in the Indian Super League right now. It also points out how the shutting down of the league will lead to unfathomable losses for not just the clubs, but for the whole Indian football ecosystem.

It further states: “As important stakeholders of Indian football, we deserve to be heard so that an amicable and long-term solution can be found without robbing anyone of their livelihood or rightfully deserved spot in the top division league of the country.”

The letter also asks for a meeting between the eight I-League clubs- which include Bagan, East Bengal, Aizawl FC, Chennai City FC, Churchill Brothers, NEROCA FC, Gokulam Kerala FC and Minerva Punjab- and the AIFF to discuss many persisting issues in the Indian game.

Part 1 of the letter written by eight top flight clubs to AIFF President Praful Patel

The first and foremost issue raised is the merger of the I-League and the ISL. It states how the topmost league of a country is sacrosanct and cannot be privately owned or operated by anyone. It also explains how the league can only be operated by the AIFF and not FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) which runs the ISL.

The clubs have proposed a unified league, which includes a true merger between the I-League and ISL clubs and a league which follows a proper structure with promotion and relegation. The letter also explains how the I-League clubs are ready to accept the ISL clubs being immune to relegation due to some contractual obligations they must observe. However, there should not be any forceful relegation of the I-league clubs into the second division.

The second burning issue raised is concerning the interference of FSDL in basically trying to run Indian football. The letter states that despite FSDL being AIFF”s commercial partner, their influence in the game is becoming more pronounced by the day. It claims that the AIFF has seemingly outsourced its own job to FSDL along with all its powers.

The letter points out how the FSDL has its own appointees in the AIFF”s technical committee and decides about who should be picked for the Indian national team and on other important issues. They also reiterated how when it comes to running the league, the I-league clubs are never even consulted.

It asks how a non-technical personal from a marketing company can be appointed in the technical committee of the AIFF?

The clubs have sought clarity on their role in the future structure of Indian football

It further explains how the FSDL should not have a say on which I-League matches should be telecast or streamed. It states how the limited broadcasting for the I-League makes it clear that the ISL is the priority number one and the I-League is being pushed onto becoming the second tier league of the country.

The final issue to be resolved is about explaining what has been done to act on the report prepared by AFC and FIFA regarding the merger of the I-League and ISL last year. It states ow the I-league clubs were interviewed by AFC personnel before the report was issued to the AIFF and how the governing body has not shared the report with any I-league club since. The I-League clubs want the letter to be shared with them and for not any more secrecy to be involved.

Finally, the I-League clubs have reiterated that they stand united in seeking answers towards their future. The letter, signed by Debashish Dutta of Mohun Bagan, also has signature places for representatives of other clubs including Sanjit Sen (East Bengal), Valenka Alemao (Churchill Brothers), Rohit Ramesh (Chennai City FC), Ranjit Bajaj (Minerva Punjab), V.C Praveen (Gokulam Kerala), Robert Royte (Aizawl FC) and Naoba Thangjam (NEROCA FC).

This could deal a massive blow to the AIFF’s plans to restructure the league next  season onwards. With Bagan and East Bengal, both tipped to join the ISL, also adding their voices to the chorus, things could get interesting in deciding the future of Indian football.