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The all new roadmap presented by AIFF a silver lining for Indian football

1:52 AM EDT 10/14/19
Praful Patel, FPAI Indian Football Awards 2013
The new blueprint prepared by the AIFF has addressed most of the concerns shared by the various parties involved...

It was back in 2010 that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced their 15-year partnership with IMG-Reliance, a move which was hailed by all stakeholders – fans, media, clubs, officials, etc. Back then, the AIFF was in doldrums given that the Indian FA struggled to conduct competitions due to lack of financial resources. The existing commercial partner, ZEE, was keen to get out of the deal and took a whopping 70 crores INR and sold the rights to IMG-Reliance.

In fact, the AIFF had a committee which scrutinized the deal which involved Larsing Ming – who is the owner of Shillong Lajong, Subrata Dutta – experienced administrator and Chariman of the League Committee and Hardev Jadeja – who served as the treasurer, before it was put pen to paper.

The above mentioned individuals are experienced and certainly knew what the AIFF was getting into.

There was a clause, which was out in the open that the new commercial and marketing partners had the right to start a new league or refurbish the existing one. That IMG-Reliance chose to opt for the former and in a way start on a clean slate is also down to the shoddy work of the clubs.

Some of the clubs suggested that the new marketing partners should look for sponsors for them and let them partner and participate in the new league. However, that wasn’t to be. In hindsight, in a way, it is back to square one as the marketing partners are pretty much leading the discussion with potential sponsors/investors for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. What must also be highlighted is that none of the these deals have been fructified as such which only goes on to show how difficult it is to get two parties together on the same page. Just imagine having to do this for almost every club in the league! Certainly in an ideal world, this should have been the case but it's easier said than done.

It was just a matter of time before the new league becomes the premier competition of the country – both in terms of status, popularity and housing the best players.

To mourn that the existing league has been demoted without being intimated or something of that sort is outright daft as the writing was on the wall since 2010. That it took nine years or so for Indian Super League (ISL) which started in 2014 to get the official status is another matter.

Where the AIFF and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) deserve praise is that they have managed to convince the ISL bosses to eventually kick-start a promotion – relegation process. This is certainly one of the biggest positives to come out from Monday’s announcement in Kuala Lumpur.

The I-League may see rebranding in a couple of years or so while the clubs at least have a roadmap on how they can make it into the top division on the basis of sporting success. One may question that the I-League clubs were part of the top division but would now need to qualify for it. As mentioned previously, it was always on the cards.

Whether the AIFF was right to sign the Master Rights Agreement (MRA) back in 2010 or maybe they should have been more judicious in the sale of each property, it’s easy to sit back and question. Mind you, most of those who are raising this question weren’t part of the ecosystem back then. Back then, it was important to inject money into the system as the value of Indian football  or even the I-League wasn’t a property many would put their stake on.

The good bit is that India has a roadmap which has been rubberstamped by AFC. The conspiracy theorists would continue to rant. However, it’s time for India to move forward and look to integrate as opposed to alienate.

The door is open for all and now is the opportunity for every club in the country to devise their strategy and ensure that they also get a chance to rub shoulders with the best.

Onwards and upwards for Indian football.