The All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Tuesday recommended that the coveted AFC Champions League slot be granted to the winners of the Indian Super League (ISL), effectively elevating the ISL to the top division from the 2019-20 season at the expense of the I-League.
The recommendation might mean that India’s AFC Cup slot now goes to the I-League winners. The AIFF has also asked AFC to send a high-level delegation to help create a suitable roadmap for Indian football, in discussion with AIFF, ISL clubs, I-League clubs and FSDL, in a time-bound manner.
A press release from the AIFF stated that the recommendation to nominate the ISL for the AFC Champions League slot had come in light of the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) signed with AIFF’s commercial partners Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) in 2010. It states that “in the last five years, the entire Indian national squad are mostly being signed/playing for the ISL clubs”, and that “TV viewership and in-stadia audience have grown far more substantially vis-à-vis the I-League”, while also pointing at the ISL clubs’ willingness to comply with the AFC Club licensing criteria, including grassroots and youth development programmes.
The decision, taken at the AIFF’s executive committee meeting in New Delhi, is likely to be challenged by the I-League clubs.
ESPN understands that in the original arrangement, AFC had only agreed to grant an AFC Cup slot to the ISL, recognizing that as the national knockout tournament, at the expense of the erstwhile Federation Cup, while the AFC Champions League slot had stayed with the I-League champions. Chennai City FC are set to play the AFC Champions League playoffs for 2020 as the reigning I-League champions.
On Monday, six I-League clubs — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Churchill Brothers, FC Goa, Gokulam Kerala FC, Minerva Punjab FC and Aizawl FC — wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to set up an enquiry commission and “probe” the AIFF’s functioning.
Last week, AIFF president Praful Patel assured the I-League clubs that their future was secure and he would approach the AFC to ensure the league continued to co-exist with the ISL for a few more years.
Two weeks ago, a top AIFF source told ESPN that the federation was “contract-bound” as per it 2010 Master Rights Agreement with Football Sports Development Limited, to make the ISL the “most senior and prestigious” league of India.