Praful Patel stated that the meeting between the All India Football Federation (AIFF), their marketing and commercial partners – IMG-Reliance and the clubs was to strengthen the I-League.
“It was a meeting on as to how do we strengthen I-League and make it more marketable. Television contract is over and now new contract is to be signed. We are aware about the low attendance due to matches timed at 3p.m. Who will come to watch in that heat?”
“Now some club matches are played in the evening. There is also a spill-over effect of the Indian Super League (ISL) interest on I-League attendances. The game is also getting attention from the corporates,” said Patel.
He mentioned that India needs one league and to have both the ISL and the I-League co-existing as separate entities isn’t feasible.
“The second thing is to see is that I-League a longer duration tournament. It can’t be a five-month tournament. We have compressed it. But we have to eventually make it a longer tournament. The ISL clubs also on their part have been saying they need a longer format. Now you cannot have ISL and I-League in long format because the time table won’t allow it.
“So we are hoping and that we have one league and eventually that was the roadmap when we started it. FIFA had advised us and AFC too. AIFF had thought of it earlier that we need a booster dose for football to kick-start and bring corporates to the game. So that is why ISL was important. So we brought ISL which has been a reasonable success. We feel this year it will be bigger and better. This year marquee and international players are much younger. The teams are also investing in training. So there is a much more focussed approach for the ISL and we feel that is a good thing,” Patel explained.
The AIFF president opined that it is the I-League which is recognized by the governing body and not the ISL – which he compared to a Durand and Rovers Cup respectively.
“Eventually, we have to try to bring two leagues in a one common format. We will have a working group with some representation from I-League, IMG-R and AIFF. We will first try to improve the leagues and then try to integration. Then we will invite two-or-three ISL clubs in the sub group. There is no time frame but in a reasonable time, maybe in two three seasons.
“The recognised league of AIFF is only the I-League. ISL is only a tournament. It’s like a Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It is a tournament for ‘x’ number of period. It’s not a league recognized by AIFF, AFC and FIFA. I-League remains principle league of the country,” he said.