The fates of atleast three I-League clubs are not certain regarding their participation in the 2013-14 I-League. Mohun Bagan, ONGC FC and Air India are fighting to stay in the I-League scheme of things and all of these battles are to be fought off the pitch. The Mariners are pushing for a reprieve in the AIFF's decision to ban them from the I-League till 2015 after they were found guilty of infractions of the I-League charter during the Kolkata Derby on December 9, 2012.
ONGC FC and Air India, two clubs in the I-League owned by public sector enterprises, face expulsion from the league as they have allegedly not fulfilled the licensing criteria set by the Asian Footballing Confederation (AFC). This has given the AIFF some food for thought as to rethink about their policy of relegating teams.
At the moment, Shillong Lajong FC, United Sikkim FC and Salgaocar FC are languishing in the relegation zone and look set to stay there unless they pull a rabbit out of the hat.
"Nothing has been finalised yet, all these things would be discussed in the executive committee meeting on January 15," said Sunando Dhar, the CEO of the I-League to The Telegraph.
"Both ONGC and Air India were on notice for the past two seasons. I am afraid they can’t be given any more time," Dhar said. "Since the I-League will continue to be a 14-team affair and only two teams get promoted from the second division, we have to think of ways to tackle the situation," he added.
ONGC FC and Air India had to ensure that they satisfy the AFC licensing criteria by December 31, 2012.
"We have fulfilled all the criteria except creating a separate entity, for which a public sector undertaking like ONGC needs cabinet approval. Our team is doing well in the I-League. If throwing us out helps the game, then the AIFF is welcome to take such a drastic step." opined ONGC manager Bibek Bhowmick.
A senior official from Air India told Goal.com,"We did try to register ourselves but for us to be a private entity, we need an approval from the Cabinet and that will take time. We do not think that the AIFF will not have us in the I-League next season."
The AIFF may consider adding new teams to the existing roster in the I-League in addition to putting a cap on relegation.
As expected, neither the AIFF nor its marketing sponsors have managed to rope in sponsors. While two of the major tournaments in India namely - the I-League and the Federation Cup are without title sponsors since last season. The federation's attempts to entice corporate giants to back its academies has so far proved futile.
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