A joint statement has been released by the clubs voicing their concerns and expectations following a meeting with the AIFF two days ago.

After deliberations with the All India Football Federation President, Praful Patel and upon having had their grievances heard by the apex body, six I-League clubs have released an official statement, which talks about their stance on suggestions put forth by the AIFF for the road ahead.

The statement was released in one voice by clubs such as, Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala. Chennai City along with Real Kashmir and NEROCA FC, however, are not part of the signatories to the joint statement. The whole issue caught more heat after it was reported that the Indian Super League would replace the I-League as the top division league in Indian football, with the move likely to be ratified at a meeting of the AIFF executive committee next week, against which the I-League clubs expressed their dissent in unison.

While the group of clubs have agreed to the proposed broadcasting and scheduling plans for the upcoming I-League campaign, they are adamant against giving up the AFC Champions League spot to the ISL. The official statement read, “In the spirit of compromise, I-League clubs agree to the broadcast plan and scheduling plans for the upcoming season, even though it is not ideal. The I-League clubs also agree to continue with the two-league system for another three years, despite initially demanding immediate resolution with a unified league.”

Through the statement, the I-League clubs justified why they deserve the AFC Champions League spot by citing the traditional value of the league and the contributions it has made towards the domestic game, by developing the sport at regional level and having an undying connection with the fans.

“However, the clubs are not in favour of giving away their rightfully earned and long-standing AFC Champions League spot till a proper plan for a unified league is initiated. The clubs insist that the AFC Champions League spot must remain with the I-League as it is the I-League clubs that have (over the years) earned the AFC spots for India to enjoy today. The AIFF has already granted an AFC Cup slot to the ISL in 2017 and the same arrangement should continue till there is one unified league,” the statement further read.

Moreover, the I-League clubs  suggested the creation of a common ground, where all stakeholders in Indian football are consulted before any agreements are put into place. The statement further added that, “The I-League clubs also suggest that these crucial decisions and developments should be clearly put in front of all parties (AFC, FIFA, FSDL) in the interest of Indian football. It is recommended that a tripartite agreement clearly outlining the way forward, be signed among AIFF, I-League clubs and FSDL for the upcoming three years to avoid recurring confrontations among the stakeholders.”

Praise was also reserved for the president of the AIFF for his commitment and assurances. In that context the statement read, “He took the time to listen to representatives of all clubs present and addressed many issues in the spirit of working together for the betterment of Indian football. The President suggested that he would approach the AFC to continue with the two-league situation for at least another 2-3 years, till a proper solution for unified league is finalised and implemented.”

“The President made it clear that given the current situation of Indian football, sacrifices will have to be made by all stakeholders be it ISL, I-League or others. AIFF as a body has to keep interests of all its stakeholders in mind before taking any step. He praised the investments and contribution of the ISL since its inception in 2014 and expressed their justified desire of recognition from AFC as a proper league, as currently the ISL holds status of national knockout cup competition, not the top division league.

He also gave due credit to I-League which he agreed, has been the top division league of the country since 1996 (earlier called National Football League). I-League follows all statues of FIFA and AFC with proper promotion and relegation structure from/to Second Division league,” the statement further added.

It will be interesting to see how the governing body responds to the new revelations in this ongoing saga. Will the I-League clubs be able to preserve their AFC Champions League qualifying slot or will the top division league of the country be pushed to become the second tier? Time will tell.