I had the chance to speak to I-League CEO Sunando Dhar about the I-League, the current scenario of Indian football, and its future besides the problems the league is facing especially with the clubs forming their own Association.
First of all congratulations on your contract extension! What would you name as your biggest achievements as I-League CEO?
Thank you so much. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the Executive Committee of AIFF, especially Mr. Patel and Mr. Das for having the faith in me and extending my contract. I would also appreciate the efforts put in by all my colleagues at the Football House for the past two and half years.
One of the biggest thing that we have been able to achieve is implementing the AFC Club Licensing Criteria, something that would help all the clubs to set up a professionally managed unit which will be beneficial to each of them in the long run. We have been able to set up the I-League department at the Football House, which has worked tirelessly throughout the year towards the smooth conduct of the League.
I would also like to thank the AFC, for the role they played in helping India to take the first few steps towards being a professionally managed unit involving AIFF and I-League, to be part of the elite Pro League Committee which helped us to learn and adapt from all the best practices used in Asia.
One of the first thing, we wanted to do was to come out with the full I-League Fixture to help the clubs plan ahead of next season. With all my colleagues at AIFF, we have been able to finalize the calendar for the 2012-13 season well in advance so that everyone associated with football in the country would have the details in regard to the tournaments and their exact dates.
The fifth season of the I-League concluded earlier this month, but there is a lot of confusion about the future of the I-League. Baichung Bhutia recently talked about a league expansion from 14 to 16 teams. Is this on the cards?
We definitely plan to extend the League from the existing 14 clubs and make it ultimately a 20 team I-League. But as of now there are no plans to change the format for the 2012-13 season which would consist of 14 teams like last year.
Also everyone is looking forward to know about IMG-Reliance’s plans for the I-league. What changes do you expect them to propose?
IMG-Reliance came on board little more than a year back, and we have had some discussions in regard to making the I-League a bigger and a better league. We are awaiting the final draft from IMG-Reliance which would be discussed in the near future and once approved by the AIFF, we will take it to the clubs. One of the main areas of concern so far as the I-League is concerned, has been with the League being restricted in only a few states. Obviously one of the plans that we are working on is to see how we can expand the game and take it to different parts of the country. It would not be right for me to say anything more at this point as IMGR, as well as AIFF is working very closely on a master plan which will be shared with everyone at the earliest.
The clubs have formed their own organisation in the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association. They say their interests aren’t taken care off, they spend crores on their teams but can’t recoup most of their money. your comments…
They have always maintained that the association has been formed with an aim to work closely with the AIFF for the overall development of Indian football. Both the clubs as well as Federation and IMG-Reliance are a part of the big football family in India and I have no doubt that we all need to work together closely if we need to take Indian football forward. The clubs form an integral part of the football fraternity in any country and definitely their contribution is second to none. We all have our problems and shortcomings, but the secret of a happy family is to work together and help each other overcome these shortcomings.
I sincerely hope that this new association would work closely with AIFF, I-League and IMGR to take Indian Football forward!
The overall budget of organising the I-League has gone-up considerably over the last few years. Where does it stand now and at what budget are you operating next season?
The overall budget of everything in India is going up and so is that of the I-League too. We had obviously increased the daily allowance along with the prize money for the teams last season which increased our overall budget from around Rs. 12,5 to Rs. 15 Crores. A major chunk of the budget goes towards airline tickets. Hence the budget for the season 2012-13 would surely go up by another 10-15%.
Published with permission from Arunava about Football.