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Oh, you poor I-League!

How long will Indian football let AIFF destroy it? Maybe after the I-League dies.

May 22, 2017
india-isl-aiff-football-i-league

How screwed is the I-League? This screwed.

Things can never get too good for Indian football. Look at what has happened, and what is to happen: India somehow managed to find itself among the top 100 in the world in rankings, a club with a tiny budget managed to lift the I-League, while India has somehow managed to its preparations right for the upcoming Under-17 World Cup (with some gaffes included, but that’s part of the deal). It was looking good, for about a second.

Now, the AIFF is again looking at destroying Indian football.

 

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India wins!

We have talked about why the I-League, as it is at the moment, is just not good enough for India. We have also talked about how making the ISL the be-all and end-all of Indian football will also be a disaster. Just some months back, it was easy to paint it as a face-off between the old clubs who had not done anything much and the new ISL clubs who have made football mainstream in India. But now that the battle is ISL vs Aizawl FC & Co., the pitch has queered.

As profile piece after profile piece has emphasized, Aizawl FC won the I-League because of their players, their coach, their owner and mostly because of the very, very passionate fans they had. There was nothing that the AIFF did to help them; much has been said about how AIFF brought them back from relegation, but the reason they were relegated was because the team which finished below them, DSK Shivajians, had an financial agreement with the AIFF which made it clear that they would never be relegated for 3 years.

Here’s a timeline of what has been happening:

On 30 April,

Aizawl FC won the I-League.

On 3 May,

following reports of the merging of the leagues, which would have put Aizawl FC in the second division with no means of promotion, the club wrote to the AIFF and threatened:

worldwide protests, sitting demonstration near AFC/Fifa offices, picketing of AIFF office, mass hunger strike/fast unto death protest [Indian Express]

On  5 May,

when asked about the threats Praful Patel duly responded with aggression, and added to the verbal effluents he emits:

“Aizawl was relegated in 2016. It was the AIFF which saw their passion and let them play the I-League as a special dispensation. They did well, they won. I congratulate the team and everyone who is related to Aizawl’s successful march. And it is the AIFF which has supported them. If the AIFF did not support them then they would not be playing in the I-League.”

[Firstpost]

In the 2015-15 season, only one 2nd Division club was promoted to the I-League: Aizawl FC. In the 2016-17 season, Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab and Aizawl FC were brought from the 2nd Division to the I-League (after the withdrawal of the three Goan clubs), while Chennai City (which was not even in the 2nd Division) was promoted too. This induction of 4 teams brought the total number of clubs in the I-League 2016-17 to 10.

Special dispensation, my ass.

He also dropped this crap:

“In the future, every club has to support its funding. We do not come into the picture. AIFF has no role in club structure, the financing of the club, the running of the club is purely their own domain,” Patel added.

Every big club in the world gets its main earnings from broadcast revenues. Here, Star, the co-owner of the ISL, holds the broadcast rights. Where the fuck is the money to be earned from?

On 6 May,

Following presentations and meetings, no official statement was released. This was picked up though:

“I-League will remain the official league, while the Indian Super League will be expanded into a seven-month long tournament to be played in the weekends. There will be no unified league. We will take a call after two-three years,” said an AIFF source.

[Firstpost]

If the ISL and the I-League ran simultaneously, which match will be watched on TV? Also, this year Star was telecasting the ISL, while Ten Sports was broadcasting the I-League. What did you see?

 

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The journey of Aizawl FC

On 12 May,

Following reports about the talks held between the AFC and the AIFF at the FIFA Congress (starting on May 9th) Mohun Bagan wrote to the AFC, asking them to maintain the status quo regarding the places given to Indian clubs in the AFC tournaments [Firstpost].  Sadly, a report appearing the next day confirmed their fears.

After the AIFF and IMG-Reliance met with the AFC (what gives a private undertaking the right to sit with the national football body, and in front of a continental body? Oh, yes. Money), the AFC reportedly agreed to grant recognition to the ISL. It also said yes to the proposal of allowing the ISL winner to play in the AFC Cup [Goal].

And capping off the list of ominous announcements, as the process of submitting bids for setting up three new ISL clubs began, Bengaluru FC expressed interest in it. This effectively meant that it would leave the I-League and join the ISL [Goal].

On 17 May,

Reports emerged that both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, two of the three original I-League clubs invited to play in the proposed merged league, had picked up papers related to bidding for ISL clubs. In other words, setting up their clubs in the ISL [HT].

Compounding the fears, this report states that there’s no TV deal for next season’s I-League; even this season, when we had nail-biting finishes to matches and a title win decided by literally the final whistle, there was zero promotion on the ground.

UPDATE: on May 19, the TOI published an interview with Mr. Praful Patel. Some excerpts:

During his trip to India, former Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said a country cannot have two leagues; it just doesn’t work. How will it work in India?
We agree to that. It’s a temporary solution only for the next two to three years. We are therefore proposing that I-League remains the premier tournament and give it our fullest support.

I-League is the only league we have at the moment.

In a two-league structure, wouldn’t I-League get step-motherly treatment?
In a dual structure, I-League will remain the premier league with champions getting a AFC Champions League play-off slot. The league will be covered by Star Sports and have weekend games. There will be better coverage on television and marketing will be at a very high level.

If you read above, it has been said that the ISL will also be held on the weekends. So, Star (if indeed a broadcast deal with it is a reality) will screen ISL matches and I-League matches together (assuming that the matches will be held at the same time). Let’s see how that happens. Additionally, it is nice to see the AIFF chief admitting that only the I-League is their property; not that it has stopped him from selling out the AIFF, but good that he is saying the truth. Lastly, the timeline for the merger is still confused; ‘two-three years’ sounds suspiciously like ‘we will kill the I-League when it is down and out.’

Should the ISL be hated?

You may ask, why this rabid opposition? Why do we oppose the ISL, which has brought Indian football in touch with the people? The answer is simple. The clubs cannot earn directly from the ISL. The AIFF cannot earn directly from the ISL. A third party, IMG-Reliance, earns from the ISL owns the ISL, and neither the AIFF and the clubs can do anything about it.

God save Indian football.


About the author: Hitesh Shetty
Dreams of writing a bestseller and changing the world. When awake, tries to figure out how to do both.

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