"With all the machinery working in tandem to ensure a successful ISL, it looks like money is finally doing all the talking and the future of the I-League certainly looks bleak."
By Abhishek Roy

Give them an inch and they'll take a mile. That's what happens when sport is handed over to the corporates. The newly launched IPL-style football league, the Indian Super League (ISL), has been on the defensive, maintaining that it is not going to hurt the the country's showpiece football tournament, I-League.

Some recent developments, however, suggest that the ISL, which is being promoted by IMG-Reliance, could overshadow the I-League, creating a piquant situation for the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

For instance, IMG-Reliance, who are also the commercial partners of the AIFF, kept saying that they would need a 10-week window for the six-team tournament. Now, as they got down to fix the nuts and bolts of the league, they have realised they need two more weeks for a successful inaugural edition.

By a strange coincidence, the AIFF decided to strictly implement the licensing rule from this year's I-League. That in one kick sent out four major teams -- former champions Churchill Brothers, United SC, Rangdajied United and the relegated Mohammedan Sporting -- for not falling in line with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruling to convert Indian clubs to professional and commercial entities.

The AIFF cannot be held responsible for the clubs' failures since 10 other I-League outfits managed to make the cut. This licensing issue came as a blessing in disguise for the AIFF, which was finding it difficult to prepare the league schedule with 13 teams, leaving a reasonable window for the ISL.

Now with 10 teams, and a possibly eleventh corporate club, the ISL could get more time than the 10-week they originally sought.

IMG-Reliance had earlier asked for a 10-week period starting Sep 20 for the inaugural edition. But with several Indian stars set to miss the first part of the league due to the Asian Games (Sep 19-Oct 4) and international friendlies, IMG-Reliance felt that the league will lose much of its sheen.

The issue was first raised by AIFF vice president Srinivas Dempo, who owns the Goa franchise of the ISL and highly successful I-League club Dempo. He wanted the ISL postponed by a couple of weeks, citing five of his players can make the Asian Games squad and it would be difficult for him to raise a competitive side for the ISL. Point well taken.

This postponement request gave the IMG-Reliance to seek extension of the ISL by two more weeks to ensure the participation of all the top Indian players. That would mean a two-week break for the ISL when the top players would be on national duty.

It seems that ISL will finally get what it demanded as the future of AIFF's Rs.700 million deal with IMG-Reliance very much depends on the success of this league.

With all the machinery working in tandem to ensure a successful ISL, it looks like money is finally doing all the talking and the future of the I-League certainly looks bleak.

(06.06.2014 - Abhishek Roy is a Principal Correspondent with IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])


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