A new gamble

A new gamble

An avalanche of reactions, ranging from delight to downright despair, has followed the announcement of winning bids for teams in the Indian Super League (ISL). Stars from Bollywood and cricket have embraced the new league which, its promoters claim, will usher in a new era in Indian football. A more realistic look would throw up questions.

Modelled on the highly successful Indian Premier League in cricket, the ISL claims it will bring in stars from world football to rub shoulders with Indian talent in a series planned in September-November this year. IMG-Reliance in partnership with Star India, with the backing of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), have been planning this competition over the last couple of years, amidst serious opposition from the country’s football clubs who fear the league would sound the death knell for their existence.

They say, with enough justification, that no super star in his prime would join the league and looking at the names touted by the promoters, that is a fair statement. Players past their best, or those who have hung up their boots lead the list and their ageing legs are unlikely to create any excitement among fans who are used to a daily dose of high class action on television from Europe.

Moreover, the timing of the league – it is scheduled when the European leagues would have kicked off after the World Cup – as well as the stringent player transfer rules of FIFA, will place hurdles in the path of players willing to travel to India for a two-month bash.

The AIFF hasn’t really thrown light on these grey areas while it has brushed aside concerns of the clubs who say the ISL will undermine the premier national competition, the I-League. The AIFF has also shown a willingness to adopt strong-arm tactics against the clubs, despite doing precious little to arrest the declining standard of the game in the country over the years.

Once a force to reckon with in Asia, India now languish at 145th spot in the world rankings. Sans a co-ordinated grassroots programme to groom talent, the game has conceded ground to other sports. ISL, it would seem, is AIFF’s big gamble for a turnaround and only time will tell whether it will succeed in the bid. The odds, at the moment, are stacked against it.