Eight I-League clubs, namely East Bengal FC, Mohun Bagan, Chennai City FC, Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala FC have unanimously appealed to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for a unified league from next year onward.
The I-League clubs want to conduct a meeting with Praful Patel, who serves as the President of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as soon as possible and discuss the future of the league which could possibly find itself relegated to the second tier of Indian football next season.
The Indian Super League (ISL) is currently run by the AIFF's marketing partner – Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) which is a joint venture between IMG-Reliance and Star Network.
The I-League clubs have stated that they do not wish for FSDL to run the top tier of Indian football should the two leagues merge next season.
In the letter which was sent by all the eight I-League clubs to the Indian FA, the following concerns were raised.
Merger of I-League & Indian Super League (ISL)
Firstly, the top division league of the country is sacrosanct and cannot be privately owned and operated. It must only be operated by AIFF and not by any private entity like FSDL.
For the last few years, we have been hearing of an imminent merger between the I-League and ISL. But it is slowly becoming evident that what is being proposed is not a merger at all.
All I-League teams stand for a unified league, a true merger of both the leagues with maximum number of teams and with proper structure for promotion and relegation.
If needed, I-League clubs are ready to accept that existing ISL clubs shall stay immune from relegation for as long as required per contract already signed between relevant parties. There should not be any forceful relegation of I-League teams to the second division due to the restructuring of leagues.
FSDL's role in Indian football
FSDL is supposed to be AIFF's commercial and marketing partner, however, their interference with Indian football is becoming clear for all to see. It seems as if AIFF has outsourced its job to its marketing partner FSDL along with all its powers.
Eight officials of the Marketing partner have been appointed into different key committees of AIFF last year, without due process being followed, and without having the necessary qualifications and expertise required for the respective committees. This is a clear case of conflict of Interest where FSDL is not only acting as the Marketing Partner but in a way runs and controls the functioning and decisions of AIFF. On the other hand, the I-League committee does not function in a proper manner. The I-League clubs are also not consulted in the running of the I-League.
AFC's report on the merger of I-League and ISL
We are aware that a committee comprising of AFC and FIFA representatives has prepared a report regarding the merger of the ISL and I-League after interviewing key stakeholders of Indian football over the last year.
It is believed that AFC has submitted the report to AIFF, for over a few months now, however it has not been shared with us even though some current I-league clubs were interviewed by the committee. We request that this report be shared with us and there should not be any secrecy surrounding it.
In conclusion, I-League clubs stand united to seek answers regarding our future, against forceful relegation to the second division and interference of FSDL in Indian Football. We demand a truly unified league and we urge you to meet with us to agree and outline the terms to make this possible.