Don't know when I-League-ISL merger will happen, says AIFF general secretary Kushal Das
Das also explained why NEROCA FC's bid to enter the I-League was rejected
The General Secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Kushal Das admitted at an event on Tuesday that the proposed merger of the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL), for which an initial roadmap was presented in May this year, is not going to take place anytime in the near future.
“When it (the merger) will happen, we don’t know. We can only start the process once all stakeholders align,” said Mr. Das, in response to a journalist’s question.
He was addressing the media at the launch of the 10th edition of the Hero I-League in Delhi, which will feature ten teams from all four regions of the country after Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC were added to the top tier after their bids were accepted earlier this month.
Mr. Das reaffirmed the status of the I-League as the premier tournament in the country, stating that it is above the ISL as it offers the teams a chance to compete at the continental level in the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.
The I-League next year will have a total of 90 matches, out of which 75 will be shown live on television, while the rest will be available for live streaming. In a welcome development, the 2017 league will have a pan-India coverage, with the ten teams playing in nine different cities and ten different stadiums – as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will not be sharing the Salt Lake Stadium this time around.
Mr. Das explained the norms for including a team in the I-League and explained why NEROCA FC, who were runners-up in the 2016 Durand Cup, had their bid rejected. The side from Manipur have a passionate fan following and their home matches are sold out more often than not, but he stated that they were unable to meet the financial criteria to enter the top tier of Indian football.
He said, “We have a fixed set of rules for evaluating bids and the evaluation is done by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, a third party. Financial and infrastructural criteria are as important than fan support and unfortunately, NEROCA were not able to meet the financial criteria."
He also highlighted the progress made by the AIFF and Indian football over the past year. The AIFF won the AFC Developing Member Association of the Year award on December 1 for the strides made in developing the game at the grassroots level. This year has seen a number of licensed coaches grow to nearly 4500 and for the I-League youth editions, the number of participating teams has increased significantly in the U16 and U18 categories.
Mr. Das said that the AIFF are now looking to introduce an U13 national league as well, and converting the U16 into an U15 age-group league.