FIFA has come out strongly in support of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel and have asked the ‘rebel’ I-League clubs to cooperate for the betterment of Indian football at large.
Six I-League clubs, led by Minerva Punjab, had questioned why a joint FIFA-AFC recommendation on the roadmap for Indian football made in 2017 has not been implemented yet. The I-League clubs wanted the AIFF to integrate them into the Indian Super League (ISL) step-by-step, starting from the 2019-20 season as per the joint report.
The six clubs had approached the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Union Sports Ministry before approaching FIFA and AFC as well.
The radical action from the clubs came after a meeting with Praful Patel in which he had suggested that the two leagues should remain separate for now but the ISL to be made the de facto top league, meaning the champions would get an AFC Champions League preliminary qualifier spot.
Effectively, Patel's suggestion would've seen the two leagues maintain status quo since no Indian club would realistically, for now, reach the group stages of the AFC Champions League. It would've seen AIFF fulfill their contractual obligation with their commercial partners while ensuring the I-League winners and ISL winners ended up playing the
In a letter addressed to Ranjit Bajaj, who is the co-owner of Minerva Punjab, FIFA Acting Deputy Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom stated that the recommendations given by the two-member panel of Alex Phillips and Nic Coward last year are not necessarily binding and that the Indian FA are in the best position to review and decide on how to best implement it.
FIFA acknowledged that the recommendations suggested need further introspection before they are being implemented.
Patel had earlier stated that the Indian FA would like the existing arrangement of the country's domestic football league structure to continue for three more years. It has been suggested that the Indian Super League (ISL) winners would get the AFC Champions League play-off berth.
However, six I-League clubs weren’t in favour of the above-mentioned suggestion and instead chose to write to FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) hoping that the two bodies would intervene.
Interestingly, FIFA has once again mentioned that they would assist the AIFF, who under the leadership of Patel and Kushal Das (General Secretary), are best placed to find a viable solution for the long-term sustainable development of club football in India.
Below are the excerpts from the letter:
AIFF Roadmap for the sustainable development of top-level Indian club football
The review performed in 2018 did indeed identify a number of complex issues which require a prudent and measured approach, encompassing the positions of all relevant stakeholders, in order to be appropriately addressed. After further discussions, it was clear that there are numerous aspects of the recommendations that still require further consideration prior to them being implemented. We understand that based on this the AIFF President has met the clubs and suggested a short-term solution until a more sustainable long-term solution can be found following continued consultation with all stakeholders.
We therefore strongly believe that the AIFF is best placed to do this and we are confident that a thorough and effective process can be managed by the AIFF in its role as the governing body for football in India.
FIFA, together with the AFC, remains available to assist and support the AIFF with this process and it will be important that all clubs work closely with the AIFF as the cooperation of all stakeholders will be fundamental to ensuring that the best way forward for top-level football in India is found.