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Proposed roadmap for Indian football by FIFA-AFC will remain unattainable without considering commercial aspect

06:03 SAST 2019/08/08
Gianni Infantino Praful Patel
The messy nitty-gritty of existing commercial obligations need to resolved first for any step forward....

As the impasse between the six ‘rebel’ I-League clubs and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) continues, the joint roadmap for Indian football proposed by FIFA and AFC in 2018 has become the major bone of contention for the parties involved.

The 17-page report prepared by a two-member FIFA-AFC delegation after consultations with various stakeholders of Indian football proposed a unified single national league system to come into effect from the 2019-20 season.

Co-authored by Alex Philipps (AFC) and Nic Coward (FIFA), the roadmap proposed that the Tier 1 of the national league system would start with 12 teams in the 2019-20 season. Under the assumption that the Tier 1 would continue to be named as the Indian Super League (ISL), all 10 existing teams in the ISL would be handed an entry while two teams were to be added from the I-League.

The recommendation was that the I-League champions would be one the two new teams to gain entry into the new top tier while the other was to be deduced through an open bid/tender process.

The proposals would have seen the Tier 1 expand to a 16-team league by the 2021-22 season with the process of adding two teams at the end of each season (through sporting merit and open tender) to be followed for a total of three years.

While the proposed roadmap for the integration of the I-League and the ISL has attempted to define a clear pathway for promotion available to teams in the lower tiers, it does fail to take into account several important factors.

One of the biggest factors it does not consider is the commercial aspect of the new unified league.

“A clear promotion link is necessary to invigorate the second tier, and therefore create serious competition amongst the clubs in Tier 2 (I-League), with this same approach continuing through the system – this is the key to invigorating lower level competitions, which was seen by development experts as vital to the necessary improvement of playing standards throughout the system,” the roadmap states.

“We appreciate that there are other factors to balance, such as geographical reach across India, and commercial/financial matters. It would be for the AIFF and key stakeholders, through the League Transition Commission, to resolve this,” it adds.

While the six I-League clubs have been clamouring for the implementation of the roadmap, the commercial aspect of the move is too big a factor to ignore given the contractual obligations the AIFF has made to FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) through the Masters Rights Agreement (MRA).

The proposal also fails to take into consideration the current contractual monetary obligations between the clubs and the ISL while no clear financial outlines have been proposed for the new teams which enter from the I-League. It is just haphazardly mentioned that they can pay a lower fee which is unlikely to sit well with the original ISL teams.

The FIFA-AFC report has effectively asked AIFF and the stakeholders of Indian football to figure out the commercial aspect of the proposed move themselves but that is easier said than done when there are existing obligations to honour between various parties.

“We are certain that success for the new top – level league structure at Tier 1 and 2 requires the same impressive commitment and investment from the Ambani family, IMG-Reliance and Star, that has created the successes of the ISL,” the proposed roadmap goes on to add.

“Our view is that the Tier 1 and 2 leagues must be operated by an equivalent to Football Sports Development Limited, as now is the case for the ISL.”

In fact, the roadmap puts the onus back on AIFF to find a commercial solution.

"We recognise that the issue of financial sustainability is complex, and necessarily must be worked through with AIFF and most signifcantly the key stakeholders," it reads.

The AIFF’s position currently is certainly not an enviable one with the Indian FA faced with the task of keeping stakeholders of both current top-tier leagues happy simultaneously but there is no denying that all parties will have to eventually come together on the negotiating table if any real headway is to be made.

Before the messy nitty-gritty of the commercial aspect can be dealt with transparently by all stakeholders involved, it is moot for the I-League clubs to continue clamouring for the implementation of the FIFA-AFC roadmap.