PANJIM: Uneasiness, doubts were raised over the lack of transparency the moment the AIFF decided to launch the ISL in 2014. And, these kept on growing since the I-League clubs were not getting any response to which is the top league, since the country could not have two official leagues. And this propelled the three big Goan clubs – Dempo SC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube de Goa to restrict their participation in the I-League citing no proper road-map.
Five years down the line, the situation is still the same. Nothing has changed and the I-League clubs are still hoping to get the ‘Status’ they deserved, while ISL is constantly gaining momentum to become the top tier league considering the facts and latest reports.
At this moment, the situation seems to have come to a boil, as the clamour from the traditional clubs is "make the roadmap of Indian football clear." And hence, the conflict.
The AIFF has gone into the defensive following the rumours doing the rounds that the ISL would be the top-League in the country. The problem gained momentum over the suspense following the request from the clubs to have a direct meeting with the AIFF President, Praful Patel, which is not forthcoming for the past five months. So, the conflict gets worse due to break in communication.
One may recall that in 2014, during the launch of the ISL, Praful Patel, the All India Football Federation president, passionately stated that I-League would be the pinnacle of Indian football and would remain so with or without the ISL clubs joining the I-League.
The ISL was only a “tournament” and a “booster dose” to football in India, according to Patel. The question which begs the answer is very simple: "What is the status of I-League now?"
This is the bone of contention from the clubs since several media reports point out that the ISL is set to be officially named India's top football competition at an AIFF Executive Meet scheduled on July 3.
The fears that the I-League could be eventually relegated into oblivion have emanated from AIFF's General Secretary, Kushal Das who pointed to a contractual clause with its commercial partner IMG-Reliance, called the Master Rights Agreement, that makes clear that the ISL would be made the "most senior and prestigious" competition of Indian football. The contract that the AIFF official is referring to, was signed in 2010, four years before the ISL’s launch.
From 2014 to 2019, in all six new clubs have joined the I-league and have committed for excellence, with three of them even emerging champions, with their players being selected for the National India team and even some of the ISL teams. There is no denying the fact that they have invested heavily and that they were not aware of any contractual obligation that would force demotion of the League in which they have been participating.
The traditional clubs are in a quandary since they have to recruit players and prepare for the new 2019-20 season. It would make no sense to invest heavily in a league which does not have the top official status.
In the absence of a well defined, clear road map for Indian football with the air being surcharged with doubts and people shouting for clarity, one will have to wait till July 3 in any case to know if there would be any structural change that could relegate the I-League as the second tier of Indian football.