Tuesday, April 07, 2020
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Editorial

Indian Football: Kicking the Wrong Way

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Feb 16, 2020 10:46 pm
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Since the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL), India had been the only country with two top-tier football leagues. During a meeting that was conducted at the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur on October 14 2019, a plan to reform club football was proposed and agreed upon. According to the proposed model, the ISL will now be awarded top-tier status while the old national league, I-league, will be the second tier with a five-year process, proposing to merge the two leagues. Additionally, ISL winners will be granted a spot in the AFC Champions League qualification while the I-league winners will be granted a spot in the AFC cup qualification.

After the 2021 season, two I-league clubs stated to be East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, will be allowed to join the ISL. While the winner of the I-league in 2022-23 season will be promoted to the ISL with a proper relegation and promotion system established by the 2023-24 season. While seemingly offering a solution to a pre-existing problem this model is riddled with various problems.

Firstly, the proposed model barely provides any “roadmap” for Indian football. Rather it seems to be more concerned with securing the future of the ISL and ensuring that it is able to retain the majority of the fan base. The new model ignores the needs of the I-league and does nothing for regional clubs and regional leagues.

The age-old problem for Indian football has been the lack of infrastructure and planning. Hence, for the longest time, the football that was played in the lower/regional leagues have been unstructured. Despite the lack of infrastructure, the regional leagues have provided a steady supply of talent. Therefore, without providing any assistance or structure to the regional leagues, the “roadmap” ignores the question of talent production and grooming.

Secondly, revenue and interest in the I-league are already declining. Thus the rationale of taking out the two most well-supported clubs from the league appears flawed and puts the survival of the remaining I-league clubs in jeopardy. The very logic of allowing clubs to join based on their fan base and financial viability, added to low standards of football, brings the credibility of the entire league into question.

In fact, the ISL model presently seems like a cheap imitation of the Major League Soccer (MLS) which itself has been a failure when it comes to producing talent as shown by the failure of the US men’s football team to qualify for the World Cup. The comparison between the football leagues in the USA and India is intriguing as both the MSL and the ISL are based on the idea of sustainable profit-making. Hence, the European idea of relegation and promotion has been ignored as it’s not good for business.

Again, the idea of ISL will always be at odds with the football culture of India. If the AIFF is more concerned with ensuring profit margins for private investors, no football fan in India can ever expect a properly functioning football system. The lack of structure in Indian football has also prevented the development of young and talented north-eastern footballers.

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Feb 16, 2020 10:46:53 pm