What is going on in the Indian professional football circuit: I- League and ISL Merger ?

This has been a long wait since it was decided that India’s top flight leagues in football will be merged into one single league. Where I-League will be considered as a second division league and ISL: the cash-rich league will be considered as the first division league of India. 

While in a meeting between the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur, it was decided that two clubs from the I-League will be provided entry into ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season. Though it came to our attention, there was no such offer from the ISL authorities. 

The minutes of the meeting further describe that both leagues will be consolidated into one single league by the start of the 2024-25 season and it will also comprise promotion and relegation. 

AIFF is still not committal about I-League’s Future 

CEO of I-League Sunando Dhar in a press conference once said that the name of the league is not at all important whereas, the main aim of AIFF must be focused on structuring the league in such a way that there are more second and third division leagues present followed by one top flight league. 

The CEO was quite pleased with how the I-League was running. But, there was some negative feedback from the clubs’ end where they expressed their grief on how the focus of AIFF has completely shifted to ISL and I-League being one of the oldest leagues in India receiving poor treatment as compared to ISL. Dhar in a press conference said “Like ISL, I-League is also an AIFF property and not that there would be a different treatment for I-League clubs. Chennai City is as close to us as Chennaiyin FC. We don’t differentiate. The new teams coming up have added to the ecosystem of Indian football.” 

Last year, it was found that AFC formed a two-man committee and had put forward a study for AIFF to decide whether ISL or I-League will be our top league. 

Changes to be Made in the Upcoming Season: Promotion and Relegation

Promotion and Relegation will be a part of the ISL and I-League upon their merger. This clause set up by the AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das has been agreed upon by all the stakeholders of ISL. The winners of the I-League will get a direct slot in ISL from the 2022-23 season. 

Upon agreed terms, Das confirmed to various media sources that the winner of the I-League will get a direct slot in ISL purely on sporting merit from 2022. From the 2024-25 season, promotion and relegation will come into play. The bottom-placed clubs of ISL will be relegated to I-League and the I-League winners will be promoted to play ISL. The clause has been duly presented to all the stakeholders and everyone agreed to it. 

This year, ISL is set to kick off from November in Goa across three venues. AIFF and ISL authorities have ensured proper security amidst the COVID outbreak and the league is to be played under closed doors. 

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