THE QUESTION MARK over how effective the mega all-stakeholder meeting of 7th June in Kuala Lumpur will actually be is set to grow bigger as some ISL franchises have begun to pull out of the meeting.
Reports have emerged that Chennaiyin FC are not going to attend the meeting, which is set to take place under the supervision of AFC General Secretary Dato Windsor and in the presence of FIFA representatives. All I-League clubs and ISL franchises have been invited to it, and the official intention behind the gathering is to work out a roadmap for Indian football including how to take ISL and I-League forward.
The questions around the actual intent of this meeting first arised when AIFF President Praful Patel, the one who called this meeting in the first place, decided not to be present.
Following the footsteps of Mr Patel and Chennaiyin FC, another significant absentee from the meeting will be the representatives of ISL franchise Atletico de Kolkata. ATK have been at the centre of controversy because of their anti-competitive stance that if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are to join ISL they cannot play their home matches in Kolkata, the city that's been the two clubs' home for over a century. ATK have been insisting on upholding their exclusivity over the city for 2 more years, citing their deal with IMG-Reliance. Their absence from this meeting signals a disinterest in working out a solution to this through open negotiation.
In contrast, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, the two clubs that ATK want to boot out of Kolkata, are leaning towards attending the meeting after initial hesitation. The two clubs threatened to boycott the meeting earlier after expressing concern over AIFF's actual intentions. But now they are seeking audience with Praful Patel before the meeting to get details about what he discussed with AFC General Secreatary Dato Windsor back on 24th May in order to prepare their pitch for the 7th June meeting. The two clubs wish to join ISL but without paying the Rs 15 crore franchise fee that IMG-Reliance are asking for, and they don't want to be exiled from their home city.
It is widely speculated that if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan agree on terms to join ISL, IMG-Reliance may push for ISL to be appointed as the new top division league at the meeting since they already have Federation Cup winners and I-League heavyweights Bengaluru FC on board. This will, however, irk Aizawl FC, who are the current top division league champions of India, but are not in a position to cough up high entry fees for ISL. They want I-League to remain the top division.
Robert Royte, the owner of Aizawl FC, will also attend the June 7th meeting.
Representatives of IMG-Reliance and Football Players' Association of India (FPAI) are also confirmed to be present in the meet. But with Praful Patel and multiple ISL franchises deciding not to attend, it will be interesting whether the assembled contingent makes it look like an "all-stakeholder meeting" capable of coming up with concrete plans for all of Indian football after all.
As things stand, AIFF and IMG-Reliance want ISL and I-League to run in parallel from November. Despite assurances for equal treatment to both competitions, many I-League clubs are worried that the overwhelming preference that ISL receives from IMG-Reliance and AIFF when it comes to promotion and telecast quality will strip further away viewers and sponsors from the I-League. The Kolkata clubs have proposed for ISL and I-League to have separate four month windows but IMG-Reliance are not in favour of that.
AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das has promised a fair hearing to all the Indian football stakeholders' grievances, but the growing list of absentees suggests that many of said stakeholders are not in favour of hearing each other out.
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