Three officials from I-League clubs in the Northeast met officials from the Asian Football Confederation and from Fifa to lay out their vision for the future of Indian football.

Representatives of Aizawl FC, Shillong Lajong and Neroca met the AFC and FIFA delegation in Guwahati and called for an extended top league, one with ISL and I-League teams and for the season to be longer.

An official, who was present at the meeting, said, “The teams had met earlier and had discussed the agenda beforehand. They called for the ISL teams to be included too in the top tier and told the officials a league, starting in March, and having 18 teams is ideal.”

The contingent from the North-east also called for a proper structure or pyramid system, with the second tier to include 18 teams as well. This was done to encourage participation in the second tier, from among the champions of local state-level football leagues.

“We tried to impress on AIFF officials (who were also present there), the need to run a league in every state. This will ensure that no talent is lost out at the local level,” stated the official.

This was especially done keeping in mind states like Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh which possess a deep talent pool, and which has so far been untapped. Concerns were raised about this as the number of players coming from Nagaland have dwindled over the years. The greatest player to have ever come out of the Northeastern region, Talimeren Ao, was from Nagaland.

As of now, the champions of the state league do not automatically qualify for the second division. Sunando Dhar, I-League CEO, had previously clarified, “We usually invite bids from the top two-three teams in each state by sending out letters to each state association. Then we evaluate the clubs based on several parameters.”

The clubs also discussed licensing criteria and franchise fees. According to the official, the teams were against paying additional entry amounts as they felt they deserved a shot at the top tier as they had each come up by winning the second division and in Aizawl’s case, also won the I-League last season.

The club licensing criteria discussed was related to the Asian Football Confederation’s, who asked the AIFF’s parent body to standardise the criteria across all clubs in the I-League and the ISL. Aizawl, who have qualified for the AFC Champions League, expect to be compliant with regulations by the time they play their first match in the competition.