The All India Football Federation will seek a year’s exemption from the Asian Football Confederation for expansion of the Indian Super League, its top-tier league, as prescribed by the apex Asian body, The Times of India reported.
The AFC allotted the ISL a direct group stage spot in the AFC Champions League from next season, the entry criteria for which is a 27-match season that lasts for eight months.
“As has been discussed, the entry criteria of minimum 27 matches for ISL clubs and the minimum duration of eight months for domestic club football will be adhered to,” AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das had written in his letter to AFC head of competitions, Pavel Luzanov in February.
The ISL organisers too wanted an expanded season but the Covid-19 pandemic has cast doubts over the possibility of it for the 2020-21 campaign. The ISL thus will continue to be a 10-team competition next season with a league and playoff format.
The AIFF executive committee that met on Wednesday agreed with ISL’s contention that it may not be possible to have a 27-game league this season.
“We discussed a 27-match season for ISL, which is a requirement of the AFC for participating in Champions League. This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we will have to see whether we can do it or not,” Das told the newspaper after the meeting.
“Everything depends on when the government gives permission to start the competition. If it can be done, we have to do it, because AFC will insist. If it cannot be done, we have to say this is a special case. Going forward, 27-match season is a must and it’s good for Indian football too,” he added.
According to the plans prepared by the organisers, ISL is expected to start in November and will break during the Fifa Women’s U-17 World Cup in February.
If the AFC agrees to grant ISL an exemption, it will be a blow to I-League side East Bengal who were looking to enter the ISL this season and will have to compete in the I-League for at least another year.
The executive committee also decided to implement the 3+1 foreign player rule for the I-League for next season after the owners of the clubs agreed. ISL clubs though feel it may be too late to implement the rule for next season as most clubs have pressed ahead with their plans for next season.
ISL CEO Martin Bain though told the AIFF that a plan with a reduced number of foreign players in the ISL will be presented before the board in two months.