Indian football received a major jolt on the afternoon of Friday, 24th June, as Goan giants Salgaocar FC and Sporting Clube De Goa announced that they will not take part in the 2016-17 season of the I-League, India's top tier of domestic football.
They now join an infamous and, worryingly for the All India Football Federation (AIFF), a growing list of clubs who have opted not to partake in the first division. Earlier last season, Pune FC and Bharat FC disbanded their first team operations, while Royal Wahingdoh, a team who finished third in the I-League table in the 2014-15 season, too opted to drop out of the I-League.
Sporting Goa finished fourth in the 2015-16 edition of the league while Salgaocar, after flirting with relegation, finished seventh.
A joint, 580-word official statement from the two clubs, nicknamed the Greens and the Flaming Oranje, can be read below.
On May 17th 2016, the AIFF (All India Football Federation) called for a meeting of all stakeholders of football in India, asking for “participation in propelling Indian football forward.” Agenda papers, which form the basis for any meeting or discussion, were never circulated. The expectation was for this to be a vital first step in developing a comprehensive roadmap for improving the state of football in India. At this meeting a detailed proposal was presented, which is heavily biased against the I-League and its clubs. Not only does it relegate the I-League to a second tier league, but also does away with promotion, thereby replacing merit with a franchisee fee as the primary criteria for participating in the top league. The ISL, hitherto termed as only a tournament by the AIFF, would leapfrog the I-League to become the nation’s top league, with no relegation. This was shocking and disheartening, especially considering the repeated claims made by representatives of AIFF and FIFA that the I-League was the premier league competition in the country.
Subsequently, this presentation was circulated and comments and suggestions were asked for. A fresh start, taking all stakeholders into confidence, was requested in order to come up with a comprehensive re-formulated plan via a transparent and democratic process. These suggestions were sent over a month ago by multiple stakeholders. The lack of response from the AIFF is telling, and makes it clear that the fate of the world’s most popular sport in the world’s second most populous nation would be decided unilaterally.
We therefore have no option but to believe that the AIFF will enforce the May 17th proposal, which would promote the ISL to the nation’s premier tournament with a “pay to play” franchisee model with no promotion or relegation. Furthermore, it guarantees the winner of the ISL representation at the AFC level, with the other available spot going to the winner of a tournament that again is heavily skewed in favour of ISL franchisees. This effectively removes any incentive for a club team to participate in the restructured I-League, given that monetary incentives were never a contributing factor. The lack of the latter was ensured by the AIFF who unfairly sold the rights to the I-League without consulting all its stakeholders. Remarkably, while demanding professionalism and fiscal responsibility from I-League clubs without itself reflecting the same, the AIFF has still not settled dues to I-League clubs dating as far back as 2008.
It will be interesting to see what AIFF President Praful Patel has to say
The contribution of Goa and its clubs to football in India cannot be overstated. Goan clubs, past and present, have won more I-League titles amongst them than all other states combined. Over the past few weeks, Salgaocar Football Club and Sporting Clube de Goa have had several rounds of discussions and have deliberated the impact that the May 17th proposal will have on the state of the sport. It is clear that the proposal is highly discriminatory, goes against sporting merit, is unworkable for I-League clubs and hampers Goa, which is the best represented state in the I-League, the most.
Therefore, rather than waiting for another year to face the inevitable, Salgaocar Football Club and Sporting Clube de Goa have decided to take the painful decision to withdraw from the forthcoming edition of the I-League. However, it must be noted that their commitment to the sport of football will not waver, the efforts towards youth development will continue with ever increasing vigour, and their dedication towards the improvement of football in Goa remains resolute.