NEW DELHI: Acting true to predicted script, the All India Football Federation's executive committee, which met here Tuesday, confirmed that the AIFF has decided to recommend to the Asian Football Confederation that the winner of Indian Super League (ISL) should get a berth for the qualifiers of the AFC Champions League.
It is expected that the six clubs that have come together under the banner of "United I-League Clubs" will now approach the court.
It bears noting that as this development was expected by all stakeholders in the Indian football ecosystem, a day ahead of the AIFF's executive committee meeting, the six I-League clubs - Mohun Bagan, Quess East Bengal, Aizawl FC, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam FC and Minerva FC - had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to intervene and set up an inquiry commission to look into the working of the AIFF.
Explaining its position, the AIFF stated: In light of the MRA (Master Rights Agreement) as well as the fact that in the last five years the entire Indian national squad are mostly being signed/playing for the Hero Indian Super League clubs, and the TV viewership and in-stadia audience having grown far more substantially vis-a-vis the Hero I-League, and the Hero Indian Super League clubs complying with the entire AFC Club licensing criteria, including strong grassroots, and youth development programmes which had also been certified by the Asian Football Confederation, the AIFF executive committee recommends to the Asian Football Confederation to positively consider their request."
The contents of the statement notwithstanding, the operative part of the sentence is really the reference to the MRA. For the record, the commercial rights agreement signed between the AIFF and IMG-Reliance (which has passed on to Reliance-controlled Football Sports Development Ltd) in December 2010 quite clearly (and the I-League clubs are aware of this, whatever be their public positions) gives FSDL the power to demand that the ISL be made the top league of the country as long as they fulfil all the criteria detailed in the AIFF statement.
Be that as it may, the I-League clubs will be meeting on Sunday to decide their next course of action.
As Debashish Datta, director of Mohun Bagan told Navhind Times: “I cannot understand the media statement of AIFF. All players representing the country today have been part of the I-league at some stage or the other. Yet, they claim that the country’s players have been selected from ISL teams. This is one aspect that is confusing.”
Datta further noted: “A committee of members from AFC and FIFA was formed some years ago and all the stake holders were spoken to by members of this committee. The report of the committee was handed over to AIFF a year ago and yet the report has not been made public. What is the AIFF trying to hide?”
Churchill Brothers FC owner Churchill Alemao, meanwhile, went ballistic while speaking to the daily: “We will go to court. This is a money making racket that is bound to finish football in India. We produce players who play for the country and not the ISL. ISL is entertainment for people. It is not football.”
Ranjit Bajaj, Minerva Punjab FC owner and one of the vocal critics of both the AIFF and FSDL, told Tribune India that Tuesday’s development was on expected lines.
“Mr Praful Patel has blatantly lied to the public. He has been lying since the 2014 press conference where he said that ISL was only a 40-day tournament and that I-League will remain the top league. In a full page interview in 2017, he again said that I-League will remain the top league. Even after our meeting (on July 3) he said that I-League was the national league/senior league of the country,” Bajaj told the daily.
“This is why we were trying to jump the gun as we knew this was going to happen. Now the only option left in front of us is to approach the court. We will challenge the MRA because it is illegal, against the national sports code, against FIFA constitution which stops third party interference. And third party interference to the extent that they have sold out selection trials. The U-17 Women’s World Cup team is being selected by Reliance. It is blatant. How can they take over selection duty which is the prerogative of the federation?” he added.
Statement issued by AIFF EC Tuesday in full:
The AIFF Executive Committee met today (July 9, 2019) in Delhi and discussed various issues including the request letter that the champions of Hero Indian Super League would get a berth for the qualifiers of the AFC Champions League.
In light of the MRA as well as the fact that in the last 5 years the entire Indian National squad are mostly being signed/playing for the Hero Indian Super League clubs, and the TV viewership and in-stadia audience having grown far more substantially vis a vis the Hero I-League, and the Hero Indian Super League clubs complying with the entire AFC Club licensing criteria, including strong Grassroots, and Youth Development Programmes which had also been certified by the Asian Football Confederation, the AIFF Executive Committee recommends to the Asian Football Confederation to positively consider their request.
Further, as the issues of Hero I-League, Hero I-League clubs and the future roadmap of Indian Football including a unified League are important issues which need to be resolved in a time-bound manner, the AIFF Executive Committee requests the Asian Football Confederation to send a high-level delegation led by Dato Windsor John, General Secretary, Asian Football Confederation at the earliest to discuss this issue with all stakeholders of Indian Football including our commercial partners FSDL to arrive at a fair solution.
In the meeting of the Hero I-League clubs along with the AIFF President, and the General Secretary, held in Delhi on July 3, 2019, some broad proposals were discussed, and a joint statement was issued by AIFF and the Hero I-League clubs.
These amicable discussions were to be presented to the AFC Executive Committee for further consideration. However, on July 8, 2019, the clubs via a letter released to the media have taken a contrary stand which is not in the spirit with which the AIFF President had met the clubs. As a result, we have, therefore, asked the AFC to find a possible solution.
Furthermore, all future official communications from the AIFF are to be addressed by the media department, apart from the General Secretary, and the President himself.
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