After taking their grievances to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asking him to conduct a probe on All India Football Federation over their functioning on the matter of the domestic league structure of Indian football, six I-League clubs have now decided to write to Asian Football Confederation and Fifa before approaching the courts.
Representatives of the six clubs – Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Aizawl FC, and Gokulam Kerala – met in New Delhi on Tuesday and came to a conclusion that it was better to notify the issue to the parent football bodies before moving to court.
AIFF President Praful Patel said during their meeting early July that he would recommend the AFC to let the I-League and the Indian Super League run concurrently for another 2-3 years before implementing a potential merger.
That was further discussed during the AIFF Executive Committee meeting, who requested to AFC to solve the issue, but also asked the Asian body to “positively consider” ISL’s request to grant it the AFC Champions League playoff slot, that has been reserved for the I-League winners so far.
Moreover, the AIFF has not communicated with the clubs ever since the Executive Committee meeting concluded on July 9. Thus, the clubs have decided to take the matter in their own hands.
“We don’t trust AIFF at all. We have to address Fifa and AFC and if they don’t reply at all, then we will go to court. We are exhausting all our remedies. Because if we go to court, they will ask us ‘Have you gone to your parent body?’ So then we would have to go back. By this we are ticking all our boxes,” Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj told Scroll.in
The stakeholders of Indian football had met with delegates from AFC and Fifa in July 2017 who handed a roadmap proposal of a unified league to the AIFF back then, but the I-League clubs were not given any access to the final document by the federation.
“Two leagues running simultaneously was spoken about in 2017 but we have been hearing this every time. There has to be a proper roadmap without heading directionless. The promise was made before the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and that year was called the transition period. A unified league was supposed to begin from the 2019-20 season,” Churchill Brothers CEO Valanka Alemao told Scroll.in.
“They had conducted the stakeholders meet. They had done research and met the I-League and ISL clubs. And till now the report is not revealed to us. We don’t even know what the calendar will be like. So it’s very fair to write to AFC and ask them,” she added.
AFC Champions League spot debate
Another issue which irked the clubs was allotting the AFC Champions League playoff spot to the winners of ISL, which was so far held by them.
In his statement after the meeting with the I-League clubs, Patel termed it a “small matter” and one that was “unnecessarily being blown out of proportion.” However, to the dismay of I-League clubs, the AIFF requested AFC to reward the Champions League spot to the winners of ISL.
“If the slot belonged to us, what is the reason to take it off?,” questioned Alemao.
“They said in the last five years, they have only got players from ISL in the national squad. So before ISL, where did our players come from? It’s a very wrong statement. Our contribution [to Indian football] shouldn’t be taking for granted,” she asserted.
Even Bajaj expressed his displeasure on potentially losing the AFC Champions League playoff slot even after the AIFF chief requested ‘status quo’ to be maintained.
“What was the need to take away our AFC Champions League spot? According to AFC, the country’s top league is given the spot, so apparently, we become the second league. And what has ISL done to acquire this spot? It was just recognised as a proper league two years ago. They have no right over this,” Bajaj asked.
He said they have no option but to challenge the Master Rights Agreement which goes against Fifa regulations.
“It’s not the spot that is important for us but the meaning that it holds. It means whoever gets the spot, is the top league. The issue is that the top league of the country cannot be owned by a private entity, as simple as that. And even the Fifa constitution says the top league needs to have relegation and promotion.
“And another clause says you cannot another have another third party interference. So they are going against the constitution of Fifa. If we don’t get a solution here, we will be challenging the MRA and will be proving that this is illegal. So forget about making it the top league, it will ban the ISL. But we don’t that to happen,” Bajaj explained.
With no clarity on their future, the I-League clubs have been forced to take sterner actions. And going by the ongoing scenario, the battle seems far from over.