India’s domestic football structure revolved around just one major league named the National Football League since 1996. The NFL, that was succeeded by the I-League in 2007, was the undisputed king of Indian football until the launch of the Indian Super League in 2014.
The ISL was initially launched as a tournament but a revamp of the domestic structure became evident when it was extended and ran concurrently with the I-League in 2017.
Amid uncertainty regarding the future roadmap for Indian football, media reports have emerged about the Indian Super League being made India’s premier football division. In response, I-League clubs have threatened to take legal action against the All India Football Federation if they are to be demoted to the second division.
But the writing was already on the wall months ago when the AIFF showed indifference towards the I-League clubs ever since they sought clarity about their future.
The whole tussle started off when the national federation decided to reduce to coverage of I-League matches during December.
Since then, the controversy has taken a turn for a worse and there is still no certainty about the league, even when AIFF President Praful Patel promised “there would be a solution to the problem” at one point.
Here’s a timeline of the entire how the events unfolded since the ISL began in 2014.
Reliance, IMG and Star announce the launch of ISL (October 20, 2013)
Reliance Industries Ltd, IMG Worldwide and Star India come together to launch the ISL, a revolutionary football tournament to develop the sport in the country, with an aim to help India qualify for the Fifa 2022 World Cup.
Praful Patel confirms I-League is the top league of India (September 4, 2015)
The AIFF President says a merger of the IMG-based ISL and I-League could take place in a few years while admitting the latter will continue to remain as the top league in the country.
“I-League is India’s main league. The Indian Super League may be called a league, but is, in fact, a tournament, like the Rovers Cup,” Patel said after the I-League clubs had raised a lot of concerns that year.
AIFF mulls ISL-I-League merger (January 6, 2016)
Kushal Das says AIFF are considering a merger of the merger between 8 teams from the ISL and 7 teams from the I-League after Bharat FC, Royal Wahingdoh and Pune FC pull out.
AIFF changes plan, proposes three-tier league system (May 18, 2016)
In May 2016, AIFF proposed a three-tier league system, with the ISL and few I-League clubs being in the top division, which would be a closed league with no relegation and promotion. The other I-league clubs would be part of the second tier of Indian football which would be called League One. That league will have relegation, but no promotion. The third tier will be comprised of the Second Division League teams and the league will have both promotion and relegation
Three Goan clubs Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa pull out of I-League
In protest to the AIFF’s roadmap for Indian football that had no place for them in the top league, the Goan clubs Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa pulled out of the I-League
Asian Football Confederation approves Indian Super League (July 25, 2017)
The ISL is given recognition after receiving approval from the AFC and will run alongside the I-League. This was after the AIFF recommended AFC that the ISL will replace the Federation Cup, whose winners were previously allocated an AFC Cup preliminary stage place.
Seven clubs form new body to fight against broadcast row (Dec 29, 2018)
In December, the AIFF announced that broadcasters would cut down on the TV coverage of the league to just 31 matches out of the remaining 61 in the season. Except for Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers, the seven I-League formed a private body to battle the “injustice” by the AIFF.
I-League matches to be broadcast online (Jan 3, 2019)
Bowing to intense pressure from aggrieved clubs, the AIFF and its commercial partners Football Sports Development Limited decide to show all the I-League matches on online platforms after it was announced that the games would not be televised.
Clubs write to Praful Patel about concerns over their future (February 18, 2018)
Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Chennai City, Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab, NEROCA FC, Aizawl and Gokulam Kerala write to AlFF president Praful Patel seeking some clarity about the future of the league. It was reported back then that the I-League may be relegated to the second tier in the domestic restructuring during the upcoming season on the direction of the Asian Football Confederation.
Super Cup pullout (March 13, 2019)
With no response from the AIFF, seven I-League clubs decide to withdraw from the Super Cup, a knockout tournament played between teams ISL and I-League.
Six clubs propose 20-team unified league (March 20, 2019)
Six I-League clubs, including new champions Chennai City FC expressed their willingness to compete in the Super Cup if the AIFF addresses their concerns about the impending restructuring of the domestic football leagues in another letter to the federation.
They also put forward the idea of creating a 20-team unified league, to be called the Indian Football League, comprising clubs from the I-League, Indian Super League and I-League second division.
Praful Patel agrees to meet I-League clubs (March 22, 2019)
After I-League clubs show “eagerness” to participate in the Super Cup, Patel agrees to meet them in order to discuss their future. Busy with work related to the general elections, he agrees to meet the agitating clubs between April 10-15.
Praful Patel’s meeting With I-League clubs postponed (April 15, 2019)
A week after being elected as FIFA Member Council, Patel cites elections as the reason for his unavailability at the meeting. However, he still promises to meet the clubs saying, “We will find a solution to the problem. The work is in progress.”
AIFF fines five clubs 10 lakhs for Super Cup pullout (May 16, 2019)
AIFF’s Disciplinary Committee imposes a Rs 10 lakh fine each on five I-League clubs, including former champions Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab FC. Meanwhile, East Bengal is fined Rs 5 lakh, who registered their team for the competition but did not receive backing from club directors QUESS.
AIFF increases Super Cup fine to Rs 27.5 lakhs (June 17, 2019)
Six I-League clubs are further slapped with a penalty of Rs 27.5 lakh each by the AIFF due to the losses incurred by the federation after the clubs decided not to participate in the tournament. They are given a deadline until June 30th to pay the fine.
Media Reports of ISL being named top league (June 21, 2019)
On June 21, several media reports claimed that AIFF was set to announce ISL as India’s premier football tournament during an Executive Meet on July 3, 2019.
I-League clubs threaten to go the court (June 24, 2019)
Seven I-League clubs release a statement saying they will approach the appropriate courts for relief against the AIFF with multiple rumours about ISL being promoted as the top league.
(with PTI inputs)