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The Indian FA and their commercial and marketing partners have convened a meeting later this month with the I-League clubs…

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and IMG-Reliance, their commercial and marketing partners, have called for a meeting with the I-League clubs on August 23 to share their plans on several pressing issues concerning the country’s national league.

IMG-Reliance’s proposal to come up with a two month promotional tournament involving eight franchisees at the start of the next year hasn’t gone down well with the I-League clubs, who believe that this fledgling competition would “kill” their product. However part of the doubts raised are also primarily due to the fact that IMG-Reliance haven't yet held talks with the I-League clubs explaining them their plan of action, which they were supposed to, as part of their official communication, on April 20 this year. Thereafter no explanation was offered by Jefferson Slack, IMG's senior vice-president, global business development, football who had made tall claims back in February of coming back to the clubs with a "timeframe" of their plan, which never saw the light of day.

In a meeting held in the first week of August with FIFA’s delegation, namely Thomas Grimm, member of club competitions committee and Jean Michel Luis alongside the development officer for Central and South Asia, Dr.Shaji Prabhakaran, the club’s voiced their concern demanding for the I-League to be a separate legal entity.

Dempo SC, Sporting Clube de Goa, Pune FC, Shillong Lajong and Prayag United were the clubs representing the I-League and they asked for a more participatory role in the decision making process than let the AIFF Executive Committee decide for them.

“We have asked them to make I-League a separate legal entity and also asked for a share of the revenue. We are ready to follow the AFC criteria and so we want them to fulfill the same,” Indian Professional Football Clubs Association’s (IPFCA) vice-president, Armando Colaco told Goal.com.

“They (FIFA) said they will talk to the federation and the concerned people for a better cooperation and relationship between the clubs and the federation,” he added.

Colaco, who is the general secretary cum coach of Dempo SC, believes that the new tournament planned by IMG-Reliance could spell the “death-knell” of Indian football and the I-League clubs.

“The new franchisee league that AIFF is toying with, looks as if it will be a non-starter, the way it is being planned now. If implemented in that manner, it could well spell the death-knell of Indian football and more so of I-League clubs. One gets the impression that we need experienced, knowledgeable experts and brains in strategic planning for the development of I-League. You need football gurus or virtual magicians in administration capable of removing a rabbit out of the hat,” he told The Herald last week.

Will IPFCA stick to their demands on August 23?

The clubs also made a presentation wherein they suggested that the I-League clubs, who fulfill the AFC club licensing criterion, must be part of IMG-Reliance’s proposed tournament.

“We gave them a proposal that we will go ahead with the IMG-Reliance tournament. But for that they will have to cancel the Federation Cup, make IMG-Reliance trophy a pan-India tournament. Let the 11 to 12 clubs who fulfill the AFC club licensing criterion be a part of it. Then the rest 4 to 5 franchisees, you go to different cities. Let the teams which qualify for the AFC Cup or in future the AFC Champions League be decided from the I-League only and not the Federation Cup,” said Siddhartha Bhattacharya of Prayag United.

In their meeting with the FIFA representatives, IMG-Reliance were advised that the proposed tournament cannot be parallel to the I-League and that there has to be some integration between the two competitions for the long-term sustainability of football in the country, as informed by Goal.com sources.

There was also a suggestion for all the stakeholders, namely the AIFF, IMG-Reliance, state associations and the clubs, involved to work with a single vision, something which is glaringly missing in all the plans made to overhaul Indian football.

Whether the bone of contention between the AIFF, IMG-Reliance and the clubs can be bridged or not will be known after the outcome of the meeting later this month.

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