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The head of entertainment and sports business of Ashok Piramal Group wants the clubs to become stakeholders in the I-League...

The All India Football Federation (AIFF), back in August last year, had agreed “in principle” to make I-League a separate legal entity. Thereafter a legal opinion from a former Chief Justice of Supreme Court was sought. However since then, there hasn’t been much progress in this regard.

With the marketing and commercial rights being sold to IMG-Reliance in December 2010 for all the properties in Indian football, there are several roadblocks to cross before the I-League can become a legal entity.

Nandan Piramal, the co-owner of Pune FC, believes that the AIFF and IMG-Reliance need to make a choice whether to persist with a product, which they believe doesn’t have a value or let the clubs be handed over the responsibility to help develop it.

“We have been cribbing and crying to make I-League a separate legal entity. First they (The AIFF) say, it is unmarketable and no revenue. So we say, ‘Okay make it a separate legal entity and let us give it a shot’. They say ‘No because IMG-R owns the rights.’ So which one is it – Do you want to own the rights and sit on it for zero value or help try and build it?” he questioned sarcastically.

He mentioned that should the clubs be more involved actively in the running of the country’s premier league, they too shall shift their focus from short term targets to working towards making the league stronger, both competitively and commercially.

“From a club’s perspective, if we become the stakeholders, then it is in everyone’s interest to grow the league. Today everyone is interested in the short term – I want to win the I-League, I want to win the Federation Cup, I want to make a big team, I want to have 50 players. Clubs are also as much as to blame as that’s what they focus on. But let us look at development. If you total all what the clubs invest, it is way over 100 crores. 14 I-League teams, so at least 150 crores. If we take a fraction of that and start investing in youth development and investing in academies, a lot can change.”

The Emergency Committee of the AIFF back in May chose to divide the I-League into an eastern and western conference in order to keep the escalating costs in check. Since then the clubs have had a meeting with the AIFF wherein they conveyed their desire to continue the league in the home and away format.

Piramal expressed his displeasure with the AIFF choosing to take such an important decision without taking the clubs into confidence in the first place given that they are the ones who are investing in the I-League, which is way over what the commercial and marketing partners pay as a fee for the rights they own.

"You are ripping the heart of the tournament and then you are saying this is done to save costs!

“It (The conference system) makes no sense. You are making into a regional thing. We have our local leagues also. Everyone plays local league. This is a little expansion of the local league. The big rivalry for all the clubs is with the Kolkata teams. You are killing what makes the I-League, 'an I-League'. And to save what? 5 crores or something. The clubs are not even considered. As clubs, you are not part of the decision making process. You are ripping the heart of the tournament and then you are saying this is done to save costs!”

He welcomed the new entrants in the I-League in the form of Jindal Steel Works (JSW) and Mumbai Tigers but added that the Indian FA still haven’t reverted to the clubs on what can they do too like the new franchisees in order to be given an assurance of not being relegated.

“We were supposed to meet the AIFF and talk as to what they (the new clubs) are doing that they are getting no relegation. So they said they are doing XYZ and if current clubs can also do XYZ, why can’t we also get no relegation. We are still waiting on that. But what I hear is if these teams do the kind of development they are talking about, then it is a good thing. I honestly welcome it.”

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