The letter marks the latest twist in the top flight teams’ battle for survival.

The I-League clubs’ association took an unforseen stand against the All India Football Federation (AIFF) by penning an official letter addressed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Monday. The association had earlier promised to do the same if the Indian Super League (ISL) was granted the top league status, which it was on 9th July, when the AIFF Executive Committee decided to request the AFC to grant the AFC Champion League qualification spot to the ISL.

Following the decision, Minerva Punjab FC chief Ranjit Bajaj in unison with five other top flight clubs penned a letter to the FIFA President in the form of a thorough document, pointing to the loopholes in Indian football’s ecosystem.

While the agenda of the letter remains to insist that FIFA step in and undertake a proper enquiry into what is transpiring in the Indian game, the twelve-page, 35-point document comments on the aspects of AIFF’s deal with Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL). This document, also exposes the various alleged wrongdoings being done to curb the I-League and handing the ISL more authority.

So, let’s look at the top 10 pointers which we found out from the I-League clubs’ letter to FIFA:

10. No promotion or relegation in ISL violates FIFA’s Sporting Integrity rule

One of the prime examples put forward by the letter is the alleged flawed system of the ISL, because of it being a closed league. There’s no promotion or relegation in the competition, which technically prohibits it from being regarded as a top league. According to FIFA’s Article 9 Part IV on “sporting integrity”, the ISL hasn’t followed the principles of promotion and relegation in all these years. As per the principle, a club’s entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship must depend solely on sporting merit.

The ISL does not follow a system promotion/relegation

This means a club can only qualify to remain part of a league championship if they stay put in a certain division, or if they’re promoted or relegated to another division at the end of the season. Altering the legal structure, as the AIFF is doing by making a closed league like the ISL the top league the letter points out, is also strictly prohibited.  Since the competition cannot technically be a league due to it’s structure and as the I-League has encouraged promotion or relegation for many years, it’s obviously the one true league in the Indian circuit, it insists.

9. A country like India cannot prosper with one closed league

The I-League clubs’ association’s letter also touches upon perhaps the most important matter which is transpiring, which threatens for the ISL to soon get autonomic control as the undisputed top league in India. The clubs have indicated to FIFA how a country as big as India just cannot rely upon one closed league and how they are in threat of being chalked down if the ISL is granted top league status.

The association feels India can’t run on a single football tournament i.e. the ISL

The letter argues that as many competitions over the years, including the Federations Cup and various other tournaments, have been discarded after the emergence of the ISL, the scope for building India into a booming footballing country is narrowing down. As a result, the letter also pleads for FIFA to ensure that the I-League clubs get as much importance as their ISL counterparts and for the Indian football blueprint to remain that for a traditional league-based system.

8. ISL being a commercial venture not suited as top league

Another important point raised by the letter is how the ISL has remained a purely commercial venture over the years. The cash-rich league has earned it’s reputation for making extravagant transfers in recent years and bringing in recognized stars to elevate the popularity of the beautiful game in the country. However, the letter mentions how the ISL has “no relevance to Indian Football.”

The association also raises questions about the age of the foreigners who sign for ISL sides

Moreover, it also mentions how the foreign players signed are usually above the 35-year age bracket. The ISL has brought in stars like Alessandro Del Piero, Marco Materazzi and Diego Forlan in the past, but all were well past their prime. The persistent question this letter raises is how a commercial league operated by a private entity can become the top league without having any international recognition or standing.

7. The method of ISL’s creation itself being a violation of rules

Unlike the I-League, the ISL is not run by the AIFF and rather by FSDL, which looks into every aspect of the league’s structure and management. In fact, the ISL clubs are also required to get approval for their foreign players from the organizers and considering that the AIFF runs in the shadow of FSDL in respect to the ISL, the competition’s creation in this manner is itself a violation of the rule, the letter alleges.

The association has also cited that the way the ISL was formed is a direct violation of FIFA regulations

The way in which the ISL was formed is a violation of Article 20 of the FIFA Regulations, Governing the Application of the Statutes. As per the rule, clubs, leagues and any other groups affiliated to a member association ie. AIFF, can only act as a subordinate to and recognized by that association. Moreover, only the member association can decide the authority and scope of these groups, while also ensuring the affiliated clubs can take their decisions independently.

6. ISL getting AFC Cup slot by discontinuing Federation Cup being a violation of rules

In its initial years, the ISL was regarded for entertainment purposes as it did not run parallel to the I-League and had a short tenure to improve the following of football in India. However, in recent seasons, the letter states, FSDL has forced the AIFF to change some rules by replacing the Federation Cup with the Super Cup and giving the AFC Cup spot, which earlier went to the Fed Cup champions, to the ISL champions instead.

The Association has pointed out that granting AFC tournament spots to ISL clubs is a violation of FIFA’s regulations

As the letter points out, this is itself a violation of clause 7 (conditions specific to AFC Cup slot allocation) of the AFC Entry Manual. As the manual suggests, for a club to play in AFC competitions, they need to be the winners of the national league and winners of the national knockout cup. Now, the ISL isn’t a knockout cup due to its initial league format and clearly violated these rules set by the AFC. Moreover, considering its closed league structure, it’ll also violate the ACL rules of having to win the national league.

5. AIFF violating FIFA statutes by being subordinate to IMG-R (FSDL)

Ever since the ISL has emerged in the Indian Football scene, the IMG-R has taken the might of the glory for “awakening” the following of the beautiful game in India. Incidentally, the AIFF has very little to say when it comes to organizing the ISL, which is done by the FSDL and isn’t overseen by the Indian federation at all. The letter indicates how AIFF is violating FIFA Statutes by acting as a sub-ordinate who works under IMG-R and not the other way around.

The association feels the AIFF is being subordinate to the IMG-R (FSDL) and is violating FIFA statues in the process

Moreover, the letter also indicates how various press articles have reported the IMG-R officials openly announcing it’s control over football in India and stating that the AIFF is “co-operating and participating” with their plans. Not only does this expose how the federation is succumbing to the pressure of their ‘commercial partners’, but are potentially in violation of FIFA”s code of ethics as well. As per provision 25, those bound by the code cannot abuse their position in any way, especially for private aims which the letter states AIFF to be doing in making the ISL the top-league to continue getting the necessary funds from IMG-R.

4. AIFF is allowing IMG-R (FSDL) to shape Indian football to their wishes

Ever since the ISL came into creation, the Indian football circuit has seen some huge changes take place. Not only have clubs been indirectly forced to shut down, but many tournaments within the country have also been abolished due to ‘monetary reasons’. The I-League association’s letter also exposes how the AIFF is just allowing IMG-R to stop established tournaments and leagues just for their own benefits.

The association feels the AIFF is allowing IMG-R (FSDL) to shape Indian football

Moreover, due to the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) signed back in 2010 with IMG-R, the AIFF has also allowed them to set up a league where there is no promotion and teams also boast from relegation immunity. This manner, in which they’ve been allowed to shape the ISL, is itself a violation of FIFA’s statutes, as the rights in competitions and events states only the member association (AIFF) can own the rights for any competition in their country.

This obviously isn’t the case in India with FSDL managing the ISL, and due to their power from the MRA, they’ve been allowed to twist the rules to their own accords.

3. Broadcasting Rights being sold off by AIFF being violation of rules

Over the years, the ISL has profoundly boasted better broadcasting quality than the I-League and much more advertising due to the superior monetary efforts. However, unlike the I-league which is produced and broadcasted by AIFF, the ISL is overseen wholly by FSDL in association with the Star Network. The letter exposes how the AIFF has sold all it’s broadcasting, marketing, promotional and every other rights to the FSDL to basically control over and own the ISL.

 

The association has also mentioned AIFF’s decision to hand over broadcasting rights in the letter

This is not only in violation of the Rights in competitions and events Statutes but allows FSDL to promote the ISL over any other tournament. All the incomes go directly to FSDL and only a fixed sum is paid to the AIFF. The letter indicates how this partnership has caused the deterioration of quality of the I-League’s broadcasting, leading to loss of revenue, popularity in I-League and not allowing the clubs to get appropriate sponsors. The fact that AIFF sold off all the rights to IMG-R itself shows their desperation and how it has led to I-league’s decline over the years.

2. AIFF violating FIFA’s rule by acting in influence of IMG-R

After the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) was leaked out on social media by Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj, many inner secrets were exposed to the general public. For one, the AIFF gets paid a fixed sum (50 crores) per year, but the letter by the I-League clubs have indicated how the money can only be spent prior to IMG-R’s approval. Moreover, with this agreement, the letter states the AIFF to have lost control over proceedings and act as a “sub-servant” to IMG-R.

The association feels the AIFF is violating the FIFA’s rules by acting under the influence of IMG-R (FSDL)

By getting influenced by a third-party, the letter states the AIFF to be in violation of FIFA’s article 14, 14(1) and should be punished to the penalty of 14(2) and 14(3). The Article 14 rule states the member associations (in this case, AIFF) must manage their affairs independently and ensure their affairs are not influenced by third parties. The penalty rule states that violating the aforementioned rule may lead to sanctions, even if the third-party rule wasn’t the fault of the association member concerned.

The letter also exposes how shady the MRA really was and the loopholes which could potentially cause future problems for the AIFF.

1. AIFF ignoring FIFA and AFC’s report for a unified league

Ever since the ISL and I-League clubs started growing in prominence, many have felt like a unified league could be the way to go for Indian Football. However, certain issues revolving the ISL clubs and it’s no relegation policy has hindered that. In 2017, representatives from FIFA and AFC met with Indian clubs’ stakeholders and formed a report/blueprint laying down the future roadmap for Indian Football.

The I-League clubs have mentioned how the roadmap drawn up by FIFA & AFC delegates have been suppressed by the AIFF

Meanwhile, the I-League clubs’ association’s letter exposes how the letter is yet to be disclosed to the appropriate stakeholders for the I-League clubs, which is in violation of the principles of natural justice and information to the stakeholders. Rather than acting on it, the letter states the AIFF to have ignored orders for a ‘one league’ because of the MRA.

The I-League clubs’ association also accuse the AIFF’s policies being to please the sponsors and commercial partners, rather than the betterment of Indian Football. While many lay awaits for a unified league, if the letter proves anything, that isn’t happening anytime soon.