The I-League Professional Football Clubs' Association (IPFCA) met on Wednesday in Mumbai to discuss various matters concerning Indian Football. They unanimously decided against loaning their players to participate in IMG-Reliance’s new tournament and instead proposed a tournament of their own during the same time.
The meeting was chaired by IPFCA President Mr. Raj Gomes and the press conference that followed it was headed by Pune FC’s Head of Operations, Chirag Tanna. Following are some of the questions Tanna addressed.
Q. What do you think of the I-League format being changed?
There have been a lot of talk about the league format changes and although that has come out on the AIFF website and it's been in almost every publication in the country but to be honest the clubs have not received any details about the new league format. The transfer window is scheduled to open on the 9th of June and we still don't know what the format of the league is. We've not received any communication to that effect and that to us is quite disturbing.
We don't see the benefits of the new format. And similar with the changes to the Federation cup. We've not really understood why it's been made and how that's going to help the development of the sport in the country.
Q. What are the changes being proposed to the current I-League format?
We've not received any communication from the AIFF with the detailed changes. We have heard that the I-League will go to two groups of 7 and then the top 4 teams from each group will play a super division but there are no details about it. We don't know what the groups are, what are they looking at and how is it beneficial to have these groups rather than have the league with home and away games like it's done in the best countries. I think when we look at improving football, we should look at adapting best practices.
Q. Are these changes being made to cut costs?
We understand that there are cost implications but I think that there are other solutions that can be provided rather than to have the league in a two conference basis. We would like to work with the AIFF to look for other solutions and this is something that should be a last resort.
We need to get a little more clarity on it. They're talking of starting the league in September or October but how do you play for the pre-season when you don't have the calendar in front of you?
Q. What are your thoughts on IMG-Reliance’s conduct?
I would imagine that AIFF did its homework before signing IMG-Reliance. As clubs we’re concerned that with the broadcasting at Zee, you had a pre-match, a post-match, you also had a half-time show, none of that seems to have happened now. If the money that IMG-Reliance are spending towards the annual fee to the AIFF is supposed to be at least double what Zee was giving, the amount invested in the I-League seems to have reduced. That's obviously an area of concern and we want to understand why. If money in Indian football has increased has why money in the I-League not increase? Nothing has been done to improve the domestic league.
Q. What brought about the tournament the I-League clubs are planning?
There's going to be a break in the I-League, we have players and coaches contracted to us and we can't expect them to sit around and do nothing. I can't tell my players to go off on a three-month holiday.
Q. What can you tell us about the increase in participation fees for the I-League clubs?
The participation fee has been increased from Rupees 50 thousand to 5 lakhs. Again, we've not been told why but we feel that if the participation fees increases ten-fold then maybe they can also increase the prize money ten-fold. This (the increased fees) is what we've been led to believe by what's come on the AIFF website and in the media. No official communication has been sent to the clubs in any of these matters.
Q. Have IMG-Reliance already signed some players from the I-League. What happens to those players?
From what we've been given to understand by the players themselves and IMG-Reliance, they've signed only 5 to 6 players. They will have nothing to do with the I-League. They can play the IMG-Reliance tournament and whatever other tournaments. No I-League club will take them. It's been a unanimous decision that we're not going to take them.
Q. Do you see the IMG-Reliance tournament as a threat to I-League?
They never really asked us what we thought about it at the time of conception of the tournament and they are going to do the tournament irrespective of what we think of it so it's rather immaterial to ask us. We want to focus on how to better the I-League and Indian Football. And the IMG-Reliance tournament; why they're doing it, why they think that format might work, why they couldn't improve the I-League - those are questions left for IMG-Reliance to answer.
Q. Do the AIFF support IMG-Reliance in their bid to sign I-League players?
The AIFF asked IMG-Reliance to talk to the clubs for players. So AIFF are not involved in getting players for IMG-Reliance. So then if IMG-Reliance wants to talk to us, they're welcomed but we haven't really had any communication.
Q. Since the last meeting, a year ago, how many exchanges have IPFCA had with IMG-Reliance?
The association has had no meetings with IMG-Reliance.
Q. Now that you've taken a stand, do you expect a confrontation with AIFF?
Not at all. AIFF and IMG-Reliance have always maintained that they want to run both the I-League and their tournament.
Q. What do you think about the increase in participation fees from 50,000 to 5 lakhs per club in the I-League?
It's not a problem when clubs are spending crores of rupees, the 5 lakhs is not it. It's what you want to do with the 5 lakhs. Is it going to mean that the tournament will be improved in anyway? Is the production quality going to improve? What AIFF is doing with the 5 lakhs is the bigger concern.
We've talked about the change in format (of the league). Why is it changing? The rumours are to save costs. But what is being done with the money that is being saved? Is it going back to the development of the league? The Federation cup format has been changed to save costs, is that money being put into the development of the league or the Federation cup?
Q. Will the clubs consider withholding the 5 lakhs in protest?
No. We want to first meet AIFF and that's going to be key. We would like to meet them and understand the thought process behind the decisions. Not one club that I'm aware of was informed. We have seen on the AIFF website that the registration fees have increased but there's been no communication with the clubs.
Q. When are you planning to meet AIFF?
We will be looking to meet them within the next week.
Q. Won't the AIFF argue that the clubs can get instructions from the website?
The AIFF website have not given details of the tournament. For example, how do we plan for anything? They say the season starts in August but what starts in August? What tournaments will be conducted in August? Most clubs will start preseason on the 1st of July, how do you know what you're training for?
Q. Do you think that Praful Patel, the AIFF president, could talk the clubs into releasing their players like it's been done in the past?
At this point, all the 14 members of the clubs who were present today, were given authority by the club chairmen to take the decision that no club will release players.
Q. What's the primary grouse against the IMG-Reliance tournament from the I-League clubs?
There's no grouse against their tournament. I'm just concerned that there's nothing happening to improve the I-League. And if nothing is being done right now, when another tournament where they fully own the stakes in is coming up, we're just concerned of the amount of investment or the interest in the I-League will dwindle even further.
Q. What will the clubs get in return if they release players?
I'll tell you what we will not get. If they say we want 5 of your players, what are my remaining 25 players and coaching staff going to do? That's the reason why we're having this tournament in the break because I can't expect my players to sit and do nothing. We haven't really heard about what's expected of the clubs at that point of time.
Q. So it's going to be a cup tournament among I-League clubs?
It's going to be an invitational tournament for all the I-League clubs. We've just discussed this today. We decided that we need to have this tournament and we've decided why we need to have it. We're not trying to compete with IMG-Reliance, we're just trying to stay match-fit. We'll discuss the venue and the format in another couple of weeks.
Q. Don't you need the AIFF support for this tournament?
We're not confronting the AIFF, we're not saying we're going to do it to fight IMG-Reliance's tournament. We're not going to get into a war with IMG-Reliance or AIFF saying that this is what we're doing in reply to the IMGR tournament, that's not the case. Our concerns for this tournament are that we want to keep our players fit.
Q. What if the AIFF rejects your tournament proposal?
Then we'll play friendly matches. There's no stopping us from playing friendly matches. We're not going to tie our players down to the bench and say you can't move out of here.
Q. Without I-League players, do you think the IMG-Reliance tournament will take off?
They seem quite positive about it so who are we to question? I don't know what their thought process is. They've not asked us what we think of their model. I'm sure they have some plan and they seem quite certain that it'll work.
Q. Are the rest of the clubs pleased that the two new clubs (JSW and Mumbai Tigers) won't be relegated?
That is something that is being discussed with the AIFF. I've read in the reports that they've reduced the number of relegations from 2 to 1. They're willing to overlook the relegation rule if the clubs look at fulfilling the infrastructure criteria that the new clubs will be following. But right now we haven't been able to confirm this with the AIFF.
Q. What about the prospect of the I-League becoming a separate legal entity? The AIFF said that they would take legal opinion.
We have put that in front of the AIFF at the last I-League committee meeting. We've not had another meeting with the AIFF as yet.
Q. What about the venues for the IMG-Reliance tournament given that the grounds are occupied by I-League clubs?
I have no idea. I think that the IMG-Reliance spokesperson will be in a better position to answer that question for their tournament. It would be wrong for us to say anything about it. I'm sure they have some thought process in mind.
Q. Bhaichung Bhutia has already given his support to the IMG-Reliance tournament and United Sikkim are willing to release their players. What's your take on this?
It's easier for them to take a decision to release players because they're not a part of the I-League. If they were, they might have taken their decisions differently, I don't know. I've read in various media reports that he (Bhutia) has strongly supported the IMG-Reliance tournament and we don't necessarily agree with him. But that's his decision and he's entitled to make it.
Q. You've said that the common voice for this meeting was to work for the betterment of Indian football so since you're saying no to the IMG-Reliance tournament, are we given to understand that it will not benefit Indian football?
That's what we believe at this point of time, in the current format it might not. We don't know much about it. Through reports, the format that we've heard, I don't see how a two-month tournament in Indian football is going to develop it. When you had Argentina play Venezuela in Salt Lake and you had Messi, Di Maria and Aguero, and all the top players in the peak of their form play, not more than 40,000 people turned up. So it really makes you think that if you have semi-retired or retired footballers coming then I don't know how successful that will be. It's not a hundred percent that it will succeed or fail but it's up for debate, isn't it?
Q. Do you think that even if IMG-Reliance's tournament is a marketing success, it wouldn't really help Indian football?
If someone tells me how it will develop Indian football, then I would believe them. But at this point of time I have no reason to believe that it would help.
Q. If the AIFF and IMG-Reliance agree to make some concessions towards the clubs, will you'll reconsider your stance?
If all our concerns are addressed, why not? Like I said, we're not on a war path with anyone, we want to work together, we want to develop Indian football.
Q. Even if you agree to loaning your players to the IMG-Reliance tournament, won't that violate FIFA rules?
I don't know how they plan to do it. I think it would be difficult to do it but I'm sure they have the expertise to figure it out.
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