All India Football Federation president Praful Patel assured the I-league clubs that their future is secure and hinted at the Indian Super League and the I-League running simultaneously for at least the next 2-3 years after meeting the ten I-League clubs in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Patel insisted that he will seek approval from AFC for the current status quo to be maintained for another 3 years which will enable the AIFF along with all the stakeholders to devise a solution that would be acceptable to all the parties.
He also downplayed the issue of the AFC club competitions slots, calling it a small issue which was blown out of proportion. He stressed again that the I-League remains the league of India, but ISL’s impact cannot be ignored.
The bottom line from his post-meeting press conference was that the AIFF is trying to work out a solution beneficial for all parties but needs AFC’s approval for continuing both leagues simultaneously for the next three years. Here is the full transcript of his press conference:
There has been a lot of uncertainty that has been going around. Unfortunately, this all started because inbetween there was a couple of months of election season, I was also a candidate for the FIFA Council and there were a few issues that had come up.
I want to make it clear, we have always recognised that I-League clubs have long standing. Clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have a long history in Indian football. Newer clubs too have now started contributing a lot for Indian football. So nobody wants to undermine or wants to see that I-League clubs do not have a good future. We also want the I-League clubs to have a good future.
However, ISL also has come and redefined Indian football by the exposure it has got. We are not just concerned about the clubs but all stakeholders in Indian football. We want players to do well, we want them to get paid well. Ultimately, the national team too has to do well. All these issues are part of the overall development of Indian football.
We had a good, meaningful meeting. They (I-League clubs) also have concerns and I respect their concerns. The I-League has scheduling and broadcast issues. All these things have to be resolved. I have given them that assurance.
I have also told them that we don’t want to pack off the I-League. It should be a league, but ultimately there should be a roadmap of Indian football. We cannot permanently have two leagues. AFC will not allow it forever. It’s a solution that we have had to do with for the time being because it’s a historical issue with Indian football.
I feel another 2-3 year window should be given for I-League to continue, that’s my personal view. I can’t give you any assurance on it as I have to speak with the AFC and they have to agree to what I’m saying. It may be our view, our wish, but AFC will have to approve the call. Our commercial partners also have to be consulted. At the end of the day, there are costs involved, there are rights which they have got through the Master Rights Agreement we signed many years back.
So within that framework, I feel we should have a three-year window where the I-League co-exists with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that I-league clubs do not get lost in the upward movement. So within these three years, I hope we can find some solution. That is the kind of approach I have in mind. Again, these are suggestions that we will try to talk to all the stakeholders.
In the meeting, I have explained this to the clubs. They also had some issues especially when the schedule is not clear, the broadcast issues. I agree that I-League also must be produced and broadcast with high quality and the schedule and broadcast issues must be resolved and it should be in a proper structure.
Who will get AFC Champions league slot?
The cup slot is a smaller issue. It is unnecessarily being blown out of proportion. The real issue is that the leagues must be recognised by the AFC. Supposedly AFC doesn’t agree then it’s a problem. We have to get both the leagues to be recognised. That is the main issue.
Speaking of the Champions League or the AFC Cup, tell me which Indian club? (has played in the Champions League). So this is a small way of looking at that issue. Yes, I always have said that the I-League has been our league of the country, ISL has been a recent entrant, so be it. The real issue is how do we eventually find a roadmap where all the rivers can flow into a larger entity. For that, I need to consult the AFC and a good three-year window is needed to find a solution.
The ISL has some contractual obligation with the clubs. They are completing five years. If there is a three-year window it will be easier to find a solution as their contractual obligations also cannot be ignored. So keeping all these things in mind, a structure that will be acceptable to all parties can be formulated, possibly in three years.
What will be the structure for the upcoming season?
The league schedule doesn’t matter. There will have to be parallel leagues. The match timings, the broadcast issues can be resolved. We have told them (I-League clubs) that we will try to resolve that issue.
I have put forward my suggestions to the I-League clubs, now I will wait for their response and agreement before approaching the AFC.
Super Cup fines?
About Super Cup fines, it is a matter of the judicial body. The body will lose its essence if we interfere. It was not part of the discussion in the meeting. The I-League clubs did not mention it.