AIFF set to give ISL India’s premier football league status: Report

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Decks are reportedly cleared to position Indian Super League as India’s premier football league. The I-League, hitherto official league of the All-India Football Federation with a proper promotion relegation structure, faces an uncertainly over its future.

The decision is expected to come up at the AIFF executive committee meeting next week, national daily Times of India has reported.

The AIFF reportedly has a contractual obligation to grant ISL the status of India’s most senior and prestigious football league.

“It’s in the contract (between the AIFF and IMG-Reliance that ISL will be the top league). Initially, we felt that let the tournament happen and then we will see. After five years, we have to honour the contract. Let the executive committee decide,” the paper has reported AIFF general secretary Kushal Das as saying.

The Masters Rights Agreement (MRA), being referred as contract by the AIFF secretary general, was signed in 2010 between the AIFF and IMG-Reliance. It has now been held in the name of Reliance subsidiary Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which also has broadcaster Star India as a stake holder.

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The ISL was first launched as a tournament between professional teams. It later got the status of a league even as I-League remained the premier football league under the banner of the AIFF.

However, abject apathy by the football governing body and the broadcaster over the past couple of years has given enough indications to put I-League’s status as country’s premier league in doubt.

“It is very much on expected lines,” an I-League franchisee told on condition of anonymity. “We (the I-League franchisees) are meeting soon to decide our course of action. We knew it is happening when the broadcaster decided not to show all our games live. We knew it will happen when the AIFF officials did not grant us a window for meeting. They have time to deliberate on penalties and punishments to the I-League clubs. But they don’t have time to meet us.

“The body responsible for well-being of Indian football is making a mockery of the sport. How can a tournament which has no second division structure become the national league. Name a single ISL club that is producing talent or working at grassroots level.”

According to the paper, there is also a clause in the Masters Rights Agreement that the existing league (I-League) could be “reconstituted, replaced and/ or discontinued (temporarily or permanently)”.

The AIFF had, states the TOI report, granted FSDL the “full and unfettered right and ability to establish the ISL and to decide upon the format, rules, and structure of the ISL and the teams and players which will compete in it”.

The AIFF will get ₹ 700 crore during the term of the 15-year agreement.

Compelled to fulfil its contractual obligations, the AIFF will reportedly discontinue the I-League and instead introduce another league, titled League One.

Paper quoting sources has also reported that no team from League One can move to the top tier (ISL), or compete for a continental slot either. The AFC Champions League playoff spot will be offered to the ISL champions, while the second AFC Cup spot has been reserved for Super Cup winners. The format for the next season’s Super Cup remains undecided with many within the AIFF rooting for an expanded 20-team competition with each team getting a minimum of three games.

The development will effectively lead to an end of the road for the I-League, which has come into existence as India’s first domestic league in 1996. It was then titled the National Football League. It was relaunched and rebranded as the I-League since the 2006-2007 season.

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