I-League clubs stick to demand for ACL spot, agree to two-league system for three years

I-League clubs have agreed to several suggestions put forward by the AIFF honcho...

The union of I-League clubs has stated its desire to continue with the existing arrangement of awarding the AFC Champions League spot to the winner of I-League.

After a long-awaited meeting with the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel in New Delhi on Wednesday, the clubs released a statement thanking the president for listening to their grievances and addressing many issues. 

"The President suggested that he would approach the AFC to continue with the two league situation for at least another 2-3 till a proper solution for the unified league is finalised and implemented. Issues regarding the broadcast and scheduling of I-League for the coming season were also addressed," read the statement by the clubs. 

"The President made it clear that given the current situation of Indian football, sacrifices will have to be made by all stakeholders be it ISL, I-League or others. AIFF as a body has to keep the interests of all its stakeholders in mind before taking any step. He praised the investments and contribution of the ISL since its inception in 2014 and expressed their justified desire of recognition from AFC as a proper league as currently, the ISL holds the status of national knock out cup competition, not the top division league.

"He also gave due credit to I-League which he agreed, has been the Top Division League of the country since 1996 (earlier called National Football League). The President agreed that the Indian football ecosystem cannot afford to lose its longest and best-serving league.

Praful Patel President AIFF

The AIFF president had agreed to improve the quality of the broadcast of I-League games and sort out issues regarding fixture schedules. Patel also wished to continue with the existing arrangement of a two-league system for three more years. 

"After the meeting with the President, the I-League clubs reconvened to discuss and deliberate on the suggestions of the President. In the spirit of compromise, I-League clubs agree to the broadcast plan and scheduling plans for the upcoming season even though it is not ideal. The I-League clubs also agree to continue with the two-league system for another three years despite initially demanding immediate resolution with a unified league."

The clubs have stated that they are not in favour of the direct swap between the AFC spots reserved for I-League and ISL. 

"However, the clubs are not in favour of giving away their rightfully earned and longstanding AFC Champions league spot till a proper plan for the unified league is initiated. The United I-League clubs insist that the AFC Champions League spot must remain with the I-League as it is the I-League clubs that have (over the years) earned the AFC spots for India to enjoy today. The AIFF has already granted AFC Cup slot to ISL in 2017 and the same arrangement should continue till there is one unified league.

"The I-League clubs also suggest that these crucial decisions and developments should be clearly put in front of all parties (AFC, FIFA, FSDL) in the interest of Indian football. It is recommended that a tri-partite agreement clearly outlining the way forward, be signed among AIFF, I-League clubs and FSDL for the upcoming three years to avoid recurring confrontations among the stakeholders. 

Ranjit Bajaj Minerva Punjab I-League 2017-18 champions

"In conclusion, I-League clubs grateful for the meeting and ready to agree to all the suggestions made by the President for the way forward, except for giving away of our rightful AFC champions league spot. 

"Now with some clarity after meeting with the President, we I-League clubs look forward to implementations of the discussed measures and preparations for the upcoming season," the clubs concluded their statement. 

After putting out the statement, Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj stressed the importance of awarding the ACL spot to I-League. "I think all our demands are justified. I-League is already recognised by AFC as the top league, so we are already an 'AFC product'. There's no reason that we should surrender the top spot," he told Goal