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Why do ISL and I-League have odd number of teams, unlike other domestic leagues?

Roy Krishna celebrates after scoring for ATK Mohun Bagan in their ISL debut (Credits: ISL Media)
Roy Krishna celebrates after scoring for ATK Mohun Bagan in their ISL debut (Credits: ISL Media)
Modified 21 Nov 2020, 12:02 IST

The seventh season of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicked-off on November 20, with ATK Mohun Bagan picking up a 1-0 win over Kerala Blasters courtesy of a sublime finish from Roy Krishna. The fixture also marked the return of the first major sporting event in India since the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.

Why does ISL 2020-21 have an odd number of teams?

A peculiar aspect of ISL 2020-21 is that the tournament consists of an odd number of participants, with 11 teams.

The situation is rarely seen in global football, as domestic leagues usually contain an even number of teams, which makes it easier to balance fixtures. An even number of participants also ensures that each team is in action during every game week. In ISL 2020-21 and next year's I-League, one team will not play a match during each round of games.

This hasn't always been the case with the ISL, as there were 10 teams last season. However, with S.C. East Bengal making their debut this season, the number has increased by one.

Why does next year's I-League have 11 participants?

On the other hand, the I-League has seen an odd number of participants since the 2013-14 season. The 2021 edition of the I-League, which is scheduled to start in January, will see 11 teams compete for the trophy. 

Former ISL powerhouse Atletico de Kolkata (ATK), disaffiliated from the Indian Football Association (IFA) to merge with last season's I-League winners, Mohun Bagan. The merger of the two teams resulted in the formation of a new entity named ATK Mohun Bagan, who are competing in ISL 2020-21.

Mohun Bagan was joined by S.C East Bengal, as both teams moved to the ISL, temporarily leaving the I-League with 9 teams. However, the number increased to 11 after the reinstation of Churchill Brothers and the promotion of Real Kashmir.

Next year's I-League promises to be an exciting affair, as Mohammedan SC will be making their long-awaited return to the tournament after six years. Sudeva Delhi FC will be participating in the tournament for the very first time, and will field an all-Indian XI.

Published 21 Nov 2020, 12:02 IST
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