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Indian Football: ISL’s rise to the top was always on the cards

4:33 AM GMT 03/07/2019
ISL trophy NorthEast United FC Kerala Blasters ISL Season 3 2016
It is not surprising that the ISL is being pushed by AIFF and their commercial partners as the top most league of the country….

The All India Football Federation's (AIFF) move to hand the AFC Champions League (ACL) preliminary qualifiers spot to the winners of the Indian Super League (ISL) from the 2019-20 season means that effectively, the ISL becomes India's top league. I-League winners will now have to play in the AFC Cup play-offs.

Until last season, it was the I-League which enjoyed the title of the elite league of the country and their winners were sent to the ACL preliminary qualifiers.

But it now seems that I-League’s time at the top is over and the Indian FA is set to push ISL to the summit of the hierarchy.

The ISL was a brainchild of AIFF’s commercial partners Football Sports Development Ltd (FSDL) which started back in 2014. Initially a franchise based two-months tournament, the duration of the competition was increased to five months since the 2017-18 season.

The AIFF also managed to get the ISL recognition from the FIFA and AFC and got them a slot in the AFC Cup playoff. The ISL clubs, for the first time, last season were also asked to fulfill the AFC Club Licensing criteria.

When FSDL signed a deal with the Indian FA in 2010 and agreed to become their commercial and marketing partners, it was clearly mentioned that either they would restructure and revive the I-League or will instead start a new league.

They, of course, chose to start a new league as they found it to be a more feasible way of promoting the sport in the country as opposed to working with the existing stakeholders who were already investing in the I-League.

While there are allegations that ISL is a private league, it is not the case officially. ISL would not have received a continental spot from AFC if it was a private league. On paper, ISL is AIFF's league, albeit conceptualised and marketed by FSDL.

The fact that ISL was set to take I-League place as the top tier of Indian football has been open knowledge, ever since the AIFF proposed a three-tier roadmap for Indian football in 2016.

Hence, it should come as no surprise that five years down the line, AIFF are turning the ISL into India's premier league.