AFC Roadmap: ISL gets top league status; little consolation for I-League

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Indian Super League (ISL) will replace the I-League as top-tier competition in the country as per a proposal presented by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on domestic structural reforms in India.

The roadmap was formulated in a meeting of the I-League and ISL clubs with the officials of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the AFC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday.

The officials of FSDL, the organizers of the ISL, were also present during the meeting.

As per the roadmap, the ISL champions would also be entitled to a play-off place in the AFC Champions League and the I-League champions would take a place in the AFC Cup in “a package that takes into consideration the recommendations of FIFA/AFC report of 2017”.

AFC in a media release has confirmed that the I-League and Indian Super League clubs have agreed to work together.

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“Everyone has to put the good of Indian football at the forefront and make the best decisions to develop Indian club football. The AFC will be very much involved to ensure the growth of the game to the next level with the pathway to a single league,” AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said in a statement.

“Every point of this package and it is a package has been thought-out extremely carefully and it is aimed simply at providing the best chance to develop Indian club football. We have informed AIFF that 10-12 teams are not enough for the top League it must be bigger.

“Everyone has contributed to the development of the Indian club game – ISL, I-League clubs, the AIFF and the AFC and I am sure that if this roadmap is considered further, then Indian football will see the benefits for the game. We are now all working together to deliver the best future,” he added.

AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said the proposed roadmap is in the best interest of all stakeholders of Indian football. “We now have a roadmap which provides the best opportunity for Indian club football. I would like to thank the AFC and its General Secretary for their contribution in proposing a solution to this unique problem. India is an important country for football in Asia,” he said.

“We have to be financially sustainable and take into consideration all commercial and contractual aspects of this plan because commerce is key to football not only in India but across the world of football.

“We must be cognizant of that fact of football life, that footballing legacy and investment are equally important for the development of Indian football,” Das added.

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I-League Clubs in spite of losing the AFC Champions League spot, are content with the overall roadmap. “We are happy that our main concern of sporting merit is brought in and four clubs are being promoted by 4 years and then promotion and relegation will start. I consider this a victory even at the cost of losing the AFC champions league spot” said Ranjit Bajaj, Owner, Minerva Punjab FC. The proposal will now be presented to the AFC Executive Committee and the AIFF Executive Committee for approval.

As per the proposed roadmap in the 2019-20 season, the ISL will attain the status of premier league competition in Indian football.

Besides as a special compensation to India, the AFC will allow the winning ISL club to represent India in the AFC Champions League play-offs, and the I-League winner will get to play the AFC Cup play-off.

Another key recommendation by the AFC is to open a pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to the criteria being fulfilled.

In addition, starting with the 2022-23 season, the winner of I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the ISL with no participation fee, basis fulfilling sporting merit and the national club licensing criteria to be set out by the AIFF. There will be no relegation in the ISL at this time.

In its recommendation for 2024-25, it is agreed to fully implement promotion and relegation into the top league, and abolition of two parallel leagues.

The proposal was floated in June by the AIFF when it announced that the ISL would take over from the I-League India’s AFC Champions League qualifier slot from 2019-20. This effectively means the ISL takes over as India’s top-tier football league.

I-League clubs had initially protested and asked for the introduction of promotion and relegation to allow them to take part in the ISL.

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