AIFF's plan for a new league: Will it change the future of Indian football?
On the 17th of May 2016, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) laid out its plan for the future of India football. The plan includes a three-tier league and a new knockout tournament. The plan has raised a mountain of questions; Let's take a look at them and arrive at suitable answers:’s
What is the proposal?
In simple terms, there was a meeting; A big meeting in New Delhi. Some of the biggest names in Indian football like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri took part in the conference. The AIFF, along with their partners IMG-Reliance and the stakeholders of Indian football were also present. Well, the media were also there, creating as much chaos as they could. The AIFF proposed a new three-tier system for Indian football. Under this proposal, the Indian Super League would form the top tier of Indian football. They also hinted at the addition of more teams to the existing eight. The existing I-League would be named as League 1 and the current League 2 would form the third and final system of the Indian football hierarchy. Also, the ISL would be immune to relegation and the other two leagues would have its fair share of promotions and relegations every year.
What does this mean for the clubs involved?
There could be major repercussions for existing clubs. The I-League is the recognised league in Indian football. The league winners and the Federation cup winners get a chance to compete in the coveted Asian Football Confederation (AFC) league. In the conference, IMG-Reliance proposed a new ‘Super Cup’ to replace the current Federation Cup. The tournament will consist of 16 teams. The current eight teams from the Indian Super League get automatic entries. The remaining eight teams will be determined after a series of play-off matches between the existing teams in League 1 and League 2. The top two teams in this cup are eligible to participate in Asia. This type of format will most certainly end the opportunity for non-ISL teams to participate in Asia, due to the wealth and power of the ISL owners.
How will this impact the players and their development?
Well, this plan will suit the Indian players playing in the ISL perfectly. It would also mean recruiting a larger pool of players to the lower leagues. This would extensively promote the development of grass-root football in India. From the U-11 to the U-19, kids across various age groups will be given more importance and a larger chance beckons them to join one of the lower league teams. The only negative from the proposed plan is that footballers playing in the ISL cannot return to their I-League team, at least for the next 2-3 years.
Are there any other changes incoming?
There were talks regarding the revival of the Nehru Cup. However, neither the Reliance people nor the shareholders spoke a great deal regarding the subject.
What is the reaction to the proposal?:
The two Goan I-League clubs, Salgaocar and Sporting Club de Goa have withdrawn with immediate effect. They laid down a few demands for the AIFF to consider out of which one of them demanded that there should not be any forced relegation of teams to the lower tier leagues in the new format. The two clubs also demanded that all the governance issues of the new leagues should rest on the shoulders of the AIFF. The two clubs said that their decision will stand unless and until their demands have been fulfilled by the AIFF.
One of the other potential roadblocks is to get the thumbs-up from every stakeholder. The AIFF want the AFC committee to include four teams from the Indian league, which will prove to be a big challenge in the upcoming days.
Is the top-tier exclusively for ISL teams? Are there any alternatives to clubs which are unhappy with the proposal?
There have been talks regarding one of the powerhouses in the I-League (Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal FC) joining the top tier of Indian football. Due to the recent troubles caused by the Goan clubs, AIFF will not have any sympathy for the lower tier clubs. So, they may have to take their cases to the higher authorities of World football (AFC). However, it seems unlikely that any other alternative can be planned at this stage.
The quotes that matter
Sporting CEO Victor Fernandes told TOI : "Our club became a part of the I-league, the premier league of the country, purely on merit. The club earned a place in the I-League and retained its place in the top league all these years. We have also fulfilled the mandatory club licensing criteria. The proposed format is against sporting merit."
Mohun Bagan general secretary Anjan Mitra told Express: “We don’t have any official information, so we do not want to comment on this, this is something that will affect us a lot, so we will study whatever plans the AIFF has very carefully before taking our next step.”
Bengaluru FC chief technical officer Mandar Tamhane told SS: “It’s definitely not a bad plan, there are some changes that have to be made — the lack of promotion-relegation for example, but we were assured at the meeting that those would happen with time.”
Nabab Bhattacharya, an official of United Sports Club told Scroll.in: “The AFC regulations require the clubs to pay their players on time. However, even though we were in trouble, there was no complaint against us from any player. Despite this, AIFF refused to renew our licence and gave licences to clubs that players had actually complained against.”
With lots of questions and not many answers, only time will tell whether the new league format is a grand success or a royal failure.