The apex body of Indian football had intended to give the spot to the Indian Super League.
The I-League has been dealt another embarrassing blow, as the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is still playing the waiting game on having its recommendations approved by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on the Asian competition slots allocated to Indian football.
In July, the AIFF passed the recommendations to effectively make the Indian Super League (ISL) the top league in India, after recommending that the ISL winners get the AFC Champions League spot. This was marred from the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) signed with Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) as part of their long-term financial agreement.
Not being able to pass this law soon brought trouble for AIFF, who took a long time to grant last season’s I-League winners Chennai City FC their prize money of ₹1 crore. The national apex body’s president Praful Patel reiterated afterwards that they had agreed on a short-term plan with the AFC to continue the parallel running of both leagues for at least three more years, before a definitive roadmap is drawn out.
I-League was therefore granted the AFC Cup slot for it’s winners, but that is now in jeopardy as the laws don’t bound a league winner from getting that slot. Indeed, as per the guidelines of the AFC Club Competitions (Article 12.1), the winner of the national knockout cup competition is given the right to compete in the AFC Cup.
The winners of the Federation Cup were given the right to compete in the AFC Cup, before the AIFF tweaked the rules to show the ISL as their knockout competition and give their winners the keys. AFC General Secretary Windsor John has been in Mumbai for the past few days holding meetings with Patel and General Secretary Kushal Das, where all the issues have been discussed.
Das spoke to the Times of India regarding the outcome of the meeting and said, “Dato Windsor had come to meet Patel for various reasons and Indian football was also discussed. They are reviewing (India’s continental slots) and in a few days, hopefully, they will come up with their recommendations.”
“The AIFF executive committee has given ISL the top slot and normally AFC goes by what the member association recommends. What we are trying to do is figuring out the second slot (for I-League),” he further explained.
The AIFF can technically still recommend the Super Cup, which replaced the Federation Cup, as the national knockout cup tournament, but that is guaranteed to provoke a huge backlash from the I-League clubs. However, Das is hopeful that the AFC can give some special immunity to Indian football and expects a decision to come up before the ISL begins.
“Maybe the AFC can provide India with a special dispensation for three years. Or we may need a little bit of restructuring. We will wait for the AFC to make recommendations. There should be clarity before the ISL begins (on October 20),” Das said.
The slot allocations for the clubs is expected to be discussed in the AFC competitions committee meeting in November. However, this comes as troubling news for the I-League clubs, who are now unsure whether they’ll even get an AFC slot to compete for, or whether the league itself will be twisted and turned into something similar to the ISL.