An unending saga between I-League and the AIFF

AIFF president Praful Patel (right) ruled out the possibility of a unified league featuring I-League and Indian Super League clubs this season.

December, 2010: The AIFF announced the signing of a 15-year agreement with International Management Group- Reliance worth Rs 700 crore. The deal granted IMG-R all commercial rights to football in India.

December, 2013: IMG-R had the choice of either rebranding the I-League or start a new league. It chose the latter, which led to the birth of ISL.      

October 12, 2014: ISL kicks off with Atletico De Kolkata facing Mumbai City FC in Kolkata in the opening game. The league was contested between eight teams in the first season, with Atletico taking home the inaugural title.

May, 2016: Representatives of I-League, AIFF and IMG-R meet. It was proposed to create a three-tier division of Indian football, with ISL becoming the premier division. I-League and the Second Division to be renamed League 1 and League 2 with promotion and relegation only between them. ISL would have no relegation and new teams would only be added if they agree to the franchise fee.

June, 2017: AIFF propose that both ISL and I-League run simultaneously on a short-term basis with I-league winner qualifying for AFC Champions League playoff and AFC Cup slot going to the ISL winner. On June 12, Bengaluru FC announce that they will be competing in the ISL as the league gets expanded to 10 teams, with Jamshedpur FC being the other team.

July, 2017: The proposal gets approved by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). ISL gets official status and AFC Cup spot.

March, 2018: Chennaiyin FC becomes the first team from ISL to qualify for the AFC Cup after beating Bengaluru FC in the final. The slot that was previously reserved for the Federation Cup winners. This competition gets replaced by Super Cup where ISL and I-League teams are drawn together to play in the knock-out format. BFC win the inaugural edition.

February, 2019: I-League clubs write to Praful Patel seeking an appointment to discuss the future of Indian football. The teams seek answers amid reports of ISL all set to be branded the top league of the country.

March, 2019: Seven I-League clubs – Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan, Chennai City FC, East Bengal, Aizawl FC, Gokulam Kerala and NEROCA pull out of Super Cup, accusing the AIFF of neglecting the needs of the clubs, including the board’s failure to provide financial assistance to teams participating in the tournament. Minerva also points out that they were yet to get the reply from the Indian football body regarding the letter eight I-League clubs had written to the AIFF last month. The I-League clubs are fined by the parent body.

July, 2019: Praful Patel meets the I-League clubs and says he will request the AFC to allow both the leagues to co-exist for another 2-3 years. The clubs respond by reiterating their demand to retain the AFC Champions League slot.

July, 2019: Six I-League clubs write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to set-up an enquiry commission and probe AIFF’s functioning.

July, 2019: AIFF recommends that the coveted AFC Champions League slot be granted to the ISL winner, effectively elevating the competition to the top division from 2019-20 season.

July, 2019: FIFA demands an update from AIFF on the current status of club structure in the country in response to the letter sent by six I-League clubs to President Gianni Infantino.

July, 2019: Kushal Das, the AIFF general secretary, responds by saying the AFC-FIFA roadmap cannot be implemented this season, adding he hopes to find the solution to this conundrum in the next 2-3 years.

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