The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been torn between the Indian Super League clubs and I-League clubs. Both were created by the same organization, but one has gained the attention of big corporates, Bollywood stars, and Star Sports while the other has gotten by mostly on it’s legacy, facing a lack of marketing and poor viewership. But that all might change.
An AIFF official revealed that the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL) might merge into a single league in the next couple of years.
As I-League chief executive Sunando Dhar explains,
We have proposed to merge the traditional I-League and Indian Super League and conduct one league instead of two. In fact, we are in negotiation with stakeholders including ISL franchisees on the issue.”
It may take two to three years complete the merger which would bring together 14 to 16 teams under one common format.
The motivation behind the merger is to improve the standard of the league. Merging the two leagues would engage participating teams for six to eight months a year.
After a meeting with ISL organizers IMG-Reliance and I-League club representatives, AIFF president Praful Patel has stressed that India’s FIFA-recognized principal league is not going anywhere, at least for now.
There’s no question [that the I-League will stick around]. It is the league of India. ISL is a tournament — like the Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It is a tournament — not a permanent league as a league of the country recognized by FIFA. I-League has to remain as the principal league of the country.”
Patel explained further,
I-League clubs felt that new challenges have come after ISL’s success. This was a meeting on how to strenghten the I-League and make it more marketable. After ISL, television viewership of I-League also went up. While it may not translate into tangible benefits immediately, it shows one has had a spin-off effect on another. It will be better to take this to the right direction.”
A merger would allow AIFF to combine the I-League’s legacy and the ISL’s marketing prowess into a more successful overall league, but it will take time. A working group made up of IMG-R, I-League, AIFF and ISL representatives will be formed to figure out exactly how and when the merger should take place.
AIFF is also in the process of developing six world-class venues in Kolkata, Guwahati, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Kochi to host the Under-17 World Cup in 2017 and at least four similar venues for practice for the participating teams.
India’s head coach Stephen Constantine and skipper Sunil Chhetri have both shown public support in favor of a unified league.
While there is still a lot to be determined, and timelines are still incredibly vague, there does seem to be a common consensus that this move is the right one if the leagues want to move forward.
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