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Indian Football: I-League winners set to get ISL berth from 2022-23 season; Promotion and relegation in ISL to follow

06:11 BST 14/10/2019
Praful Patel President AIFF
ISL league stage winners set to play AFC Champions League preliminary qualifiers, whereas the AFC Cup playoff spot has been handed to I-League winners

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the top brass of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) have formulated a roadmap, keeping in mind the interests of all stakeholders, that will benefit Indian football in the long run. 

AFC general secretary Dato' Windsor John after meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel and general secretary Kushal Das has rubber-stamped the Indian FA's proposal that will see the I-League winners get an entry into the Indian Super League (ISL) by virtue of merit from the 2022-23 season. The I-League winners will make the cut for ISL without paying any participation fee, Goal has learnt.

It has also been proposed that from the 2024-25 season, the ISL will cease to be a closed league and promotion and relegation will be implmented. The number of clubs to be relegated or promoted is yet to be decided. 

Also from the 2024-25 season, the ISL and the AIFF's knockout cup winners will get the continental slots as I-League will officially become India's second division.

For the next three seasons, the existing arrangement of two parallel leagues will continue as previously suggested by Patel in July. 

"There is a historical issue with Indian football, within that framework, I feel a reasonable two to three years window should be given for I-League also to be continuing. I cannot give you any assurance yet because I have to talk to the AFC. AFC also have to agree to what I am saying. It may be our wish but AFC will have to agree. Our commercial partners have to be consulted. At the end of the day, there are costs involved," commented Patel after meeting with seven I-League clubs on July 3 in Delhi. 

But the I-League club which will get promoted will have no share in the central revenue of ISL, from which a certain amount is currently distributed amongst the franchises. Although to ensure participation, the new entrant must fulfil all the guidelines that the organisers update from time to time, such as stadium guidelines.

For the seventh season of ISL, there could be two new entrants from the eastern region of India. These two clubs may come on their own or merge with an existing entity.

Issue of continental spots resolved

The AIFF had previously written to AFC to positively consider its request to grant ISL's winning team the ACL qualifier slot. Goal can confirm that AFC has decided to agree with AIFF's proposal, thereby granting it the status of the top league in India. But since AFC Club competitions' clause 12.1 states that the top spot must be allocated to allotted to the "winner of the national top division league", therefore it has been decided that the winners of the league stage of ISL will be rewarded with the ACL play-off spot. 

Patel had earlier indicated that he wants I-League to continue and the winners to receive an AFC Cup playoff slot. The FIFA Council Member is all set to deliver his promise as the I-League winners will participate in the AFC Cup playoffs and hence continue to have representation at the continental stage.

"I feel that the I-League also must co-exist with the fullest recognition of the AFC so that it is an AFC product. It should not be something which is not recognised by the AFC. So the clubs in I-League must also not get lost in the upward movement," Patel had mentioned. 

But the winners of Super Cup are unlikely to get any of the two continental spots until the 2024-25 season.