The winner of I-League in 2022-’23 and 2023-’24 will be promoted to the Indian Super League as a roadmap of India’s domestic football structure was discussed in a meeting of stakeholders with the officials of the AIFF and the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday.
The proposed timeline till 2024/25 has been agreed upon by the AFC.
The All India Football Federation had invited the clubs of the country’s two domestic leagues to a meeting at AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the future of the game in the country. The officials of Football Sports Development Limited, the organisers of the ISL, were also present in the meeting.
The national federation, in consultation with the AFC, presented a “roadmap” for the future of Indian club football and among the major points of the agreement is that by the 2022-’23 season there will be no entry fee for I-League clubs that are promoted to the Indian Super League.
But for the first three years (2019-’20, 2020-’21 and 2021-’22), there will continue to be no promotion and relegation in the ISL.
According to the agreement, two I-League clubs will be offered entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-’21 season.
In a presentation made by the federation it was also confirmed that the agreement between AFC and AIFF, the continental body agreed for the winner for ISL to represent India in the AFC Champions League while the I-League champions will get the AFC Cup slot.
It is learnt by Scroll.in that the AIFF had requested for direct group stage entry for AFC Champions League. But that has been put on hold since the structure of that league may also change as the commercial partners would be different from next year and the AFC slots will be allotted to ISL from next year only.
Here’s the agreement that the AFC and the AIFF have arrived at:
AIFF's roadmap for club football in India
|Roadmap||Promotion / relegation details||Remarks|
|Year 1 (2019-'20)||No promotion & relegation in ISL|
|Year 2 (2020-'21)||No promotion & relegation in ISL||Two clubs from I-League to be offered entry into ISL by end of season|
|Year 3 (2021-'22)||No promotion & relegation in ISL||League format (name of league, number of teams etc) to be decided by AIFF for implementation|
|Year 4 (2022-'23)||Winner of I-League to be promoted to ISL, no relegation||No entry fee; no distribution of central revenue for the promoted club; only by sporting merit facilities, & national club licensing criteria|
|Year 5 (2023-'24)||Winner of I-League to be promoted to ISL, no relegation||No entry fee; no distribution of central revenue for the promoted club; only by sporting merit facilities, & national club licensing criteria|
|Year 6 (2024-'25)||One main league & one knock-out cup tournament, promotion & relegation to be implemented|
A summary of the roadmap, as confirmed by AFC is as follows:
- In season 2019-’20, the ISL will attain the status of premiere league competition in Indian football.
- AFC will allow the winning ISL club to represent India in the AFC Champions League play-offs, and the I-League winner will get to play the AFC Cup play-off.
- A pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to the criteria being fulfilled.
- In addition, starting with the 2022-’23 season, the winner of I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the ISL with no participation fee, basis fulfilling sporting merit and the national club licensing criteria to be set out by the AIFF. There will be no relegation in the ISL at this time.
- In its recommendation for 2024-’25, it is agreed to fully implement promotion and relegation into the top league, and abolition of two parallel leagues.
What’s been said
Windsor John, AFC General Secretary:
“Everyone has to put the good of Indian football at the forefront and take the best decisions to develop Indian club football. The AFC will be very much involved to ensure the growth of the game to the next level with the pathway to a single league.
“Every point of this package – and it is a package – has been thought-out extremely carefully and it is aimed simply at providing the best chance to develop Indian club football. We have informed AIFF that 10-12 teams are not enough for the top League – it must be bigger.
“Everyone has contributed to the development of the Indian club game - ISL, I-League clubs, the AIFF and the AFC – and I am sure that if this roadmap is considered further then Indian football will see the benefits for the game. We are now all working together to deliver the best future.”
Kushal Das, AIFF General Secretary:
“We now have a roadmap which provides the best opportunity for Indian club football. I would like to thank the AFC – and its General Secretary – for their contribution in proposing a solution to this unique problem. India is an important country for football in Asia.
“We have to be financially sustainable and take into consideration all commercial and contractual aspects of this plan because commerce is key to football not only in India but across the world of football. We must be cognisant of that fact of football life, that footballing legacy and investment are equally important for the development of Indian football.”