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How I-League clubs are being nudged towards slow death

Jaydeep Basu

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I-League clubs have accused the AIFF of step motherly treatment towards them.

New Delhi: Please have a look at the sequence.

May 20, 2019: The All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) emergency committee meets in the capital at the residence of its president Praful Patel. A decision is taken to open bid for induction of at least one new I-League.

May 26, 2019: National coach Igor Stimac says I-League has the tradition that money cannot buy.

June 15, 2019: The AIFF’s disciplinary committee meets in Kolkata. It decides to slap a fine of Rs. 27.5 lakh each on six I-League clubs for not participating in Super Cup. This is over and above the heavy fine imposed earlier for the same reason.

June 15, 2019: Mumbai based U-Mumba club announce they are suspending their trials to recruit footballers on the advice of AIFF. The outfit were widely tipped to join I-League.

June 17, 2019: Indian Super League (ISL) franchise outfit FC Pune City announce they are not shutting down. They may switch to another city.

Well, this is only a simple order of events happened in Indian football in the past one month. Let’s not make an effort to join them together and form an opinion.

But then, there is no doubt that any attempt to have a new team in I-League has been temporarily halted. A senior AIFF official said a process has to be followed.

“We have received a letter from our marketing partners. They have very rightly pointed out that as per the agreement, they have to be informed officially in case we plan to induct a few team in the I-League.

“Let us also make it clear that no one has even minutely hinted of putting a bar on us in having a new team. We will follow the process as and when we decide to have another team in the league,” the official said.

Interestingly, another piece of information came up from another source. A section in Indian football was interested to see U Mumba invest money for a club in the franchise based league. It didn’t happen. The reasons are not known.

I-League clubs were previously worried about being reduced to second division clubs. Now they are mainly concerned about existence. They are moving to the AIFF’s appeal committee to reduce fines, which may take away chunk of their annual budget.

If appeals are turned down, some of them may have to put the shutter down.

At the end of this month or early next month, AIFF executive committee is set to meet and act as per its agreement with marketing partners. The franchise based league will be declared the country’s main league.

“Again that is part of agreement. Legally, we are bound to make it official,” said a senior functionary.

To lose the tag of main league means losing the AFC Champions League qualifier spot. The AFC Cup spot is likely to go to winners of the Super Cup.

I-League clubs must heave a sigh of relief. They never have to worry about recruiting right number of foreigners for continental tournaments. There won’t be any live telecast and there are proposals to play I-League on regional basis.

Well, Igor Stimac was right, but only partly. Money cannot buy tradition. It can certainly kick you out of the market.