Football & India: Part 1
The state of football in India. Because if you can wake up for that CL Final, you can definitely read this.
I love football. I play football. I’m an Indian.
Of course, my favorite clubs are Real Madrid and Chelsea.
Change the names of the clubs to any of the top 10 clubs in Germany, England Italy or Spain, and you will have the average football fan in India. We know more about their clubs, their players, then we know about our own clubs and players. Of course Fifa and PES have a role to play in this. But when a football playing kid can tell you about the Manchester United vs City rivalry better than he can talk about Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal (chill. The kid here is me), we have a problem.
Let me tell you about what is happening in our country.
So, we have an Indian football league?
Yes. It all started with the NFL.
What’s the NFL?
Founded in 1996, the National Football League (NFL) showed early promise in its endeavor to make football a professional sport, but lost momentum after a couple of seasons.
Eleven years later, in 2007, it finally gave way to the I-League, which today is on its last legs—dwarfed by the conflict-strewn Indian Super League (ISL), which was born in 2014. All of these were created to revamp and revive an unproductive domestic ecosystem.
Ok. Who runs it?England has its FA (Football Association). India has its AIFF (All India Football Federation). We also have cup competitions (the Federation Cup is the most prominent one). Just saying.
The I-League is our official league. 10 teams played in its inaugaral edition in 2008, and 10 teams are playing in the current edition. The winner gets to play in the AFC Cup (Asian Football Confederation), which is Asia’s Europa League. Our Champions League is the AFC Champions League. No Indian team has ever played in it, though some of our clubs have played in the qualifiers for it. Bengaluru FC, however, were the first Indian club to reach the final of the AFC Cup. This year, they are in the qualifiers for the AFC Champions League. Hope for the best.
The sending of team to the AFC Cup or the other is apparently determined by the ranking of the nation.
Alright…what is the ISL then?
IMG-Reliance, along with STAR, came together to hold a franchise filled league, the ISL. It was promised that this was just the sideshow; the IPL to the I-League’s Ranji. The problem is, the AIFF has decided to make this THE league. In other words, it has replaced the I-League.
Whoa, whoa. Where did Reliance come from?
IMG-Reliance virtually owns Indian football, as of now. And it will continue to do so, at least till 2025. It’s a sad story.
So we have 2 leagues. Isn’t that…messed up?
Everyone thought the same thing. From the players to the spectators to the administrators, everyone. Many terms were thrown about by the people who mattered; ‘short-term’, ‘future’, ‘merger’. The AIFF President himself has been so inconsistent, that you just need to look at his statements to realise that, of course, he comes from politics.
He is a politician? What is it with politicians and sports?
My friend, politics in the AIFF has a rich history & a promising future. More than BCCI, it is the AIFF which needed a Lodha Committee.
I’m already losing hope.
Cheer up. There’s worse.