ISL is the winner!

Updated: Oct 15, 2019, 11:35 IST | PTI | New Delhi

Franchise-based league gets top division status over I-League after Indian football stakeholders agree to a proposal from AFC on domestic structure

Bengaluru FC players celebrate after winning the 2018-19 Indian Super League title in March
Bengaluru FC players celebrate after winning the 2018-19 Indian Super League title in March

New Delhi: Indian Super League (ISL) will replace the I-League as the top-tier competition in the country after the stakeholders agreed to a proposal of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). In a meeting at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, the I-League and ISL clubs agreed on a roadmap presented by the AFC on domestic football structure reforms in India. As per the roadmap, the ISL will be the top league in the country from this season itself while I-League will continue as second-tier league.

The ISL, which begins in Kochi on October 20, will not have promotion and relegation till 2023-24 by which time the League would have completed 10 seasons. From the 2024-25 season onwards, promotion and relegation will be implemented and there will not be two parallel leagues. The ISL champions would now be entitled to a play-off place in the AFC Champions League, the top-tier club competition in Asia, while I-League champions would compete in the second tier AFC Cup.

Another key recommendation by the AFC is to open a pathway for two I-League clubs' entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season. In addition to this, the AFC proposal said starting with the 2022-23 season, the winner of I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the ISL with no participation fee.

'Best solution for all'

AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said the proposed roadmap was in the best interest of all stake holders in Indian football. “We have to be financially sustainable and take into consideration all commercial and contractual aspects of this plan because commerce is key to football... footballing legacy and investment are equally important for the development of Indian football,” Das added.

Mohun Bagan secretary Debashish Dutta said that his club is happy with the roadmap. “We have been fighting for a proper roadmap of Indian football and today we are successful. After five years there will be one league with promotion and relegation and that they [I-League winners] can play without franchise fee from the fourth year, it's the biggest achievement for Indian football,” Dutta said.

'Victory for I-League clubs'

Former I-League champions Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj, who had earlier opposed the move to grant ISL the top league status, said he was happy that main concerns of the I-League clubs have been addressed. “Four clubs are being promoted [to ISL] by four years and then promotion and relegation will start. I consider this as a victory even at the cost of losing the AFC Champions League spot,” he said.

Other key recommendations

  • I-League champions will get to play in second tier AFC Cup
  • Two I-League clubs will get entry into ISL by 2020-21 season
  • From 2022-23 season, I-League winner will get to play in ISL
  • From 2024-25, ISL will have promotions and relegations

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