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From I-League to ISL: A story in lies

How the AIFF lied to our faces. And lied, and lied, and lied.

January 19, 2017
By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

In August 2013,

In an interview with AIFF President Mr Praful Patel:

How important is this event (ISL) to spruce up the game?

We are just building this as a short-term solution. I-League is certainly the long-term solution. We need to strengthen it though and this is just a part of that process.


In October 2013,

Much-anticipated, the formal announcement of the league was made in an IMG statement on Monday after being widely reported across India earlier in the day. Eight city-specific teams will compete in the first season, which will begin on 18th January 2014 and conclude in March. A second competition has already been pencilled in for later in 2014.

The IMG-Reliance Indian joint venture, created in March 2010, has been supplemented by Star India for the Super League project.

Star India, the country’s biggest TV network, will hold the broadcast and sponsorship rights for a tournament which IMG said had the ultimate aim of offering Indian soccer ‘greater global exposure and eventually help India qualify for the 2026 World Cup’.

Reports earlier on Monday suggested Star India has agreed to pay RS2,000 crore, or some US$324.7 million, for a one-third stake in the Indian Super League, plus the commercial rights for ten years. IMG’s statement did not, however, confirm those figures.


In October 2014,

The AIFF president Praful Patel:

“Certain ISL clubs have already shown interest in playing the I-League…the signs are evident. Maybe in a couple of years, you will find ISL teams playing in the I-League,” he said. He, however, did not specify which ISL owners had approached him.

[Indian Express]

Along with him was FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke

“With all due respect, the ISL is not a ‘league’. It’s a tournament that will help Indian football garner attention from the fans, sponsors etc. According to FIFA, India has only one league and that is the I-League, which is held under the aegis of the All India Football Federation (AIFF),” Valcke said in the Capital on Wednesday.

[Daily Mail]

In November 2014,

The AIFF president Praful Patel:

A lot of people, including high-ranking AIFF officials, have said that there is a possibility of the I-League and ISL merging sometime in the future. Is that really possible?

One must understand that we do not have two leagues: One is a tournament (ISL) and the other is a league (I-League). There is no question of the two coming together as a league.


In February 2015,

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das says:

“The I-League should be compared from what it was some three years back. At that time, we didn’t have a sponsor while today Hero is on board for support for three editions. Today, courtesy the ISL, we can today afford to have all matches under the floodlights. The rub-on effect has been splendid,” he added.


Clarification: ONGC sponsored the I-League from 2007-2011, 2007 being the year when the I-League began. IMG-Reliance was the marketing partner of AIFF, since 2010. Whose fault is it again?

In July 2015,

In a meeting between the AIFF and the I-League clubs:

“Patel said that in a few years from now, whether three, four or five years, India will eventually have just one league. This means that there will be a merger between the I-League and the ISL (Indian Super League) although the technicalities aren’t clear for now. He also stated that when the talks begin to combine the two leagues, the interests of the I-League clubs will also be taken into account instead of just announcing a one-sided decision,” informed one of the I-League club officials.


In August 2015,

I-League chief executive Sunando Dhar said:

“Both leagues complement each other. The I-League season has been pushed to January to benefit the ISL. The ISL starts in October and ends in December. The I-League starts in January and ends in May, so it would be better to have one league with eight-nine months of competition. A single league with 15-16 teams could be established in three years’ time,” Dhar said.


In September 2015,

Our respected President said:

“There’s no question [that the I-League will stick around]. It is the league of India. ISL is a tournament — like the Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It is a tournament — not a permanent league as a league of the country recognised by FIFA. I-League has to remain as the principal league of the country,” Patel stressed.


In January 2016,

AIFF general secretary Kushal Das says:

“But if you see the overall picture, two years back there were 12 teams playing the I league and now by combining two leagues (the I-League & ISL), you have 17 teams playing, which helps us in thinking about merger much more.”


Clarification: The I-League 2015-16 was a nine-team affair; ISL has 8 teams.

In May 2016,

After the announcement of the three-tier league (ISL, I-League 1 [2nd Division], I-League 2 [3rd Division]),

According to Reliance:

“You cannot have 16 teams at the top simply because we do not have enough players,” said Sundar Raman, the chief operating officer (Sports) of Reliance, the biggest stakeholders in the ISL.

According to AIFF:

“There are contractual obligations that have to be respected,” said AIFF president Praful Patel , without elaborating, possibly referring to the franchise agreement that ISL teams have with the league owners which make it clear that neither of them will be relegated for the length of their 10-year contract.

According to an I-League club:

“If we fulfill the criteria, there is no place for us in the ISL. If we play in League 1, there is no avenue for us to get promoted to the top league. Why should we play at all,” asked a club official who attended the meeting.


In May 2017,

The AIFF announced on May 17 last year that there would be a merger between the I-League and ISL. Why suddenly change gears and say the two leagues will be played simultaneously?
We feel it will take some more time for the integration of the two leagues. There are various reasons; the structure of both leagues is different, particularly with the franchise fee. Instead of merging from this year, we will do over a period of two or three years in a structured manner where issues can be narrowed down….

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…

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…


These are the people who run our game. And they lie to our face.


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