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The Piramal scion questioned as to why the country’s best league hasn’t yet been made into a separate legal entity...

Nandan Piramal, the co-owner of Pune FC, believes that making I-League a separate legal entity is the first step towards professionalising the structure in Indian football. He questioned the motives of those in power by referring India as a ‘Giant being put to sleep.’

“FIFA refers to Indian football as the ‘Sleeping Giant’. I cannot understand how we take it as a compliment; it basically means that we have a ready market and have grossly underachieved. My bigger concern is that Indian football is looking less like a ‘Sleeping Giant’ and more like a ‘Giant being put to sleep’,” he wrote in The Times of India.

He explained as to why the clubs in their every conversation with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) make a mention of making the I-League a separate legal entity.

“Although we are the largest investors in the I-League – and hence, in Indian football — we have little say in the way the league is run. The AIFF and IMG-R collectively spend approximately Rs 16 crore per annum in conducting the I-League whereas clubs collectively spend well over Rs 100 crore per annum. It would be unrealistic for clubs to invest further in the marketing of the league, when our income from central sponsorship barely covers our travel expenses for the season.”

The AIFF under the tutelage of Praful Patel announced the sale of franchisees in the I-League which saw over 20 corporate houses attending the brief in Delhi and Dubai. However only two finally made the cut and the rest opted not to put their hand in an industry where the sponsorship rights have been sold for the next 13 years and the clubs would have no say in the running of the league.

Where is the money?

“This goes to prove that there is genuine interest in the I-League, but the league is being held back. A couple of examples will be enlightening: The share in revenue of the I-League clubs was reduced from Rs 50 lakh to 40 lakh. Now this would not a bad thing if the Rs 1.4 crore were invested back into the I-League, by improving its broadcasting, marketing or promotion. 

"Mumbai Tigers and JSW pay a franchise fee to the AIFF for five years; each of them paid Rs 3 crore per annum (estimated). This money has been earned by selling I-League franchises and should ideally be reinvested into the I-League.

“But today, the money earned from I-League gets utilised in funding other AIFF projects. Pulling money out of I-League is nothing short of suicidal for the I-League and the I-League clubs. The I-League is being financially drained and then it is being called an unsustainable product.”

While the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) calls for the league to be a separate legal entity, which it is in India albeit on paper, to be run by a body comprising of the clubs, the league itself and the AIFF, all the decisions on the I-League are being taken by the AIFF Executive Committee.

Is there any hope?

“The I-League clubs have repeatedly requested that this be rectified and that the I-League should be run in the manner recommended by the AFC and FIFA. In an I-League Committee meeting conducted at the start of the 2012-13, all parties — I-League Clubs, the AIFF and IMG-R representatives agreed that running the I-League as a separate legal entity would be in the best interest of Indian football. After repeated reminders this has still not been done and we were recently informed that the MRA signed between the IMG-Reliance and AIFF prevents AIFF from making the I-League a functional legal entity.”

He mentioned that there is no hope for India to become a footballing superpower should the league continue to remain stagnant and no efforts being made to improve and promote it.

“Giving the I-League a separate legal entity is the first step in making the domestic league sustainable and having a sustainable domestic league is the first step towards making India a footballing powerhouse.”

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