I-League clubs in the dark after court ruling
The immediate future of the I-League is the biggest concern arising out of Tuesday's Delhi High Court ruling on Praful Patel. The ruling has set aside All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Patel's election last December and appointed former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi as administrator.
"The people losing out the most are those involved with the I-League, junior football and grassroots development," Ranjit Bajaj, owner of I-League club Minerva Punjab told ESPN. "My only concern is that I hope Dr. Quraishi will understand that 10 clubs and the livelihood of 350 players are dependent on how soon he understands the distinction between the league and the ISL."
I-League is still the officially-recognized league of India and is meant to be the qualifier for India's solitary slot to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.
Shrinivas Dempo, owner of Dempo Sports Club, however, says the ruling won't affect the I-League. "I don't think the court's decision will have too much of an impact on the functioning of the I League," he told ESPN. "In much the same way that the Supreme Court's decision on the office-bearers of the BCCI didn't have an impact on the scheduling of the Indian domestic cricket tournaments, I believe the AIFF will also manage to function until the next elections are held."
ESPN understands that the proposed fixtures list for the I-League -- meant to run concurrently with the Indian Super League (ISL) that starts on November 17 -- was supposed to get finalised this week, but club owners and officials now fear that the decision could get delayed. ESPN tried to contact AIFF officials, but they refused to answer any queries about the same.
"With the consistent delays in the announcement of fixtures, it has become impossible to plan for the season," said one club official. "Forget seeking sponsors, or marketing and publicising your fixtures to get good crowds in, how do you prepare your team physically? Do you play practice matches or do you do high-intensity training and periodisation? The ambiguity around it doesn't allow you to implement plans."
Bajaj says it is the preference for the ISL over the I-League that is the problem, labelling the treatment given to the ISL by the AIFF as "unfair".
"Preferential treatment is being given to the ISL. When somebody asks for a comparison between the ISL and the I-League -- in terms of the sponsorships, marketing push and attendances -- I find it ridiculous because the ISL gets all the support from the AIFF," Bajaj said.
The ISL is an entity that the AIFF is part-stakeholders in -- along with IMG-Reliance and the official broadcasters of the league -- and is hence unlikely to feel any impact of the court ruling.
While one club official felt that Tuesday's ruling could pave the way for someone with football expertise, like former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, to get into AIFF administration, the official felt it would be difficult to work around the politics at play, saying, "If Bhaichung chooses to stand for AIFF president, the public would support him wholeheartedly, but how will he get votes without the support of individual state associations?"
"Why not have a CEO and run the federation like a corporate entity? We must take football out of politics," said the official. "The real work should be done by the CEO who has clear-cut objectives that relate to the performance of the national team, smooth functioning of the league and other such matters. If the objectives are met on a regular basis, then good, or else he or she gets fired."
(With inputs from Jonathan Selvaraj)