One month from the beginning, I-League received a huge body blow as Goan clubs Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar have now pulled out from the competition, with five-time champions Dempo threatening to do the same. The decision comes after the clubs failed to find common ground and agree to accept the “Roadmap” that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and IMG-Reliance had proposed.
If all three clubs do move out, the League will be contested by 6 teams only. While the AIFF is looking for fresh teams viz. FC Bardez of Goa, Minnerva Academy FC of Chandigarh and Chennai City FC of Chennai, their first tender was unsuccessful in roping anyone in with all bids falling short of the mark set by AIFF.
Peter Vaz, the Chairman of Sporting Clube de Goa seemed to be miffed about the way they have been treated and detested the “pay to play” franchise model that AIFF had tried to enforce.
The Goan clubs had had first threatened to pull from the league in June, earlier this year, after disagreeing with the “Roadmap” that was laid out on 17th May, 2016.
In a press release, Sporting Clube de Goa poured out their anger and the events that eventually led to this decision. The Goan club divulged that the “AIFF General Secretary assured to call a meeting of all I-League clubs, to consult the AIFF President and Executive Committee and also their marketing partners IMG Reliance and revert back with a final binding proposal on or before 31st July, 2016.”
However, after this meeting nothing was heard from the from the AIFF until their Executive Committee decided to form a “Small Working Committee” to speak to all stakeholders and formulate a way forward for club football in India. However, the club has accused the AIFF of not considering them to be stakeholders as they were never spoken to.
Sporting Clube de Goa further enlightened that the club along with Mumbai FC had penned letters to AFC and FIFA regarding their concerns.
This was followed by FIFA President Giovanni Infantino and AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa along with Secretary Dato John Windsor descended on Goa at the end of September to attend the Extra Ordinary Congress of AFC, where they “made all the right noises”.
That had resulted in the AFC setting up a joint task force to help smoothen the process. The Task Force consisting of high-ranking officials of AFC, AIFF and IMG-Reliance also had its first meeting in Goa on 27th September, 2016.
Sporting have stated that they along with other I-League clubs remained in the dark for the period that followed while AIFF President Praful Patel kept on saying that the “Roadmap” was still a work in progress and that the I-League is the main league of India. Sporting’s statement further says that the club was still hopeful last month and thus took part in the Club Licensing process where they secured the National Licence.
However, Praful Patel’s comments the book launch function of Saji Prabhakaran’s book “Back to the Roots” seems to have been the final barrier breaker. The statement by Mr Praful Patel in which he said, “We (the AIFF) have set the cat among the pigeons” didn’t sit well with the club and thus they have now decided to move away from the I-League.
On contacting Mr Adlear d’Cruz, the Secretary of Salgaocar, he said that the club has no new statements to make and are sticking to their stance of pulling out from the I-League, which they had announced earlier.
Dempo, who gained promotion to the I-League last season, are yet to make up their mind. However, according to close sources around the club, they are also tilting towards a move away.
Speaking to xtratime, Dempo owner Srinivas Dempo quipped, “We have not yet decided. We will sit with the AIFF President Praful Patel and take a call.”
If all three clubs exit it will mean that six clubs would have exited the tournament in the last two years with Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh shutting up shop last season.