I-League set for a big structural change from next year

I-League chief executive Sunando Dhar, speaking at a football panel discussion today, said no team, however big its reputation might be, will not be allowed to take part from 2011-12 season if they do not comply with the AFC professional criteria.

"If the clubs don't conform to AFC criteria till December 31 this year, sorry they will not be allowed to play in I-League from next season (2011-12). The message is please shape up or else shut shop. AIFF President Praful Patel and AFC chief Mohammad bin Hammam is serious about this," Dhar said during a panel discussion on 'The case of football in a cricket crazy nation'.

Dhar was non-committal about any IPL-style football league but said new corporate franchisee teams would feature from 2011-12 onwards and AIFF would ask them to earmark a specific amount of money for infrastructural development like building of stadium.

"We are in talks with some big industrial houses and from 2011-12 season we are adding some franchisee teams. We can't blindly copy IPL. But the new franchisees will have separate criteria. They will be asked to have minimum amount of money for infrastructure development like building a stadium and investing in youth development," he said.

AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco conceded that the I-League has a long way to be fully professionalised and said it is up for some big changes from next year.
"I-League was launched in 2007. Despite our efforts it is still not fully professional. FIFA evaluators will decide after the deadline of December 31 this year whether the clubs have conformed to AFC professional criteria and those who failed to do so will be dropped from 2011-12 season," he said.

"We in India are very reluctant on change. There are clubs in India which think they are more than 50-years old and so why should they change. But we have to make a beginning. I hope the new initiatives will make significant changes in Indian football," he added.Talking about the lack of grounds owned by the clubs themselves, Colaco said the AIFF had asked the clubs to take the stadiums from the government or other bodies on long-term lease and the federation would give the money for upgradation of facilities to AFC standards.

"Nowhere in the world, national federations own stadiums. Clubs or governments own stadiums. If the clubs can't have their own stadia, they take them on long lease and we are ready to provide money to upgrade the facilities so that AFC matches can be held," he said.

Colaco, who was apparently ticked off by a comment from lawyer Rahul Mehra, indicated that he would quit after the Asian Cup in January 2011."I want youngsters to come and work for Indian football. I am looking forward for a new general secretary to the AIFF," he said.

"I am not responsible for Bob Houghton's contract controversy. I am not popular because I don't talk to media. I am not after money but am proud to be a paid secretary," an emotional Colaco said.

Fraser Castellino, COO Sports Marketing Business of UB Group which sponsors Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, denied his boss Vijay Mallya was involved in any plan of starting an IPL-style football league.

"It was just an idea. Nothing beyond that," he said.Dhar said that the national Under-19 side which will feature in the I-League from 2010-11 season as a Delhi-based team with the AIFF paying the salary of the players will also be owned by a corporate company later."As of now they will be fielded by the AIFF but maybe next year and maybe after that it will be owned by a corporate group," he added.

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