4. I-League was put on Death Row way back in 2010
For the longest time, top officials of AIFF have insisted that I-League has been (and still is) the top division league of the country, and they are committed to promote it and make it better.
Even in 2014, when they allotted IMG-Reliance an exclusive window to host a private tournament called ISL which cut the I-League short by several months and caused several independent clubs to shut down or pull out of the national stage, AIFF insisted in their 'Lakshya' plan that I-League was to remain the pinnacle of Indian football, and the ISL was only meant to augment the top division league.
But this AFC/FIFA report includes a quote from the original agreeement between AIFF and IMG-Reliance which clearly states that their intention, all along, was to promote ISL in a way that it kills the I-League and replaces it as the top division league of India,
"The 2010 Master Rights Agreement between, originally, the AIFF and IMG-Reliance, and now between AIFF and IMG-Reliance subsidiary, Football Sports Development Limited (in which Star also has a shareholding), makes the position very clear. AIFF clearly agreed that what became the “New League”, the ISL, was to be “the most senior and prestigious football league in India”. The AIFF agreed that “the existing I-League may, as a result of the introduction of the [ISL], be reconstituted, replaced and/or discontinued (temporarily or permanently).” AIFF granted to IMG Reliance/FSDL the “full and unfettered right and ability” to establish the ISL and “to decide upon the format, rules and structure of the [ISL] and the teams and players which will compete in it”. Further, the AIFF agreed to do all things necessary to ensure the ISL operated as IMG Reliance/FSDL wished.
The Master Rights Agreement was the result of a negotiation, on commercial terms, which suited the two parties at the time. It laid the foundation for the ISL. It also was clear as to what might happen to the existing structure, the I-League, that the Lakshya Master Plan a few years later said it should augment."
This makes it clear that the authors are not blind to the inconsistency between AIFF's publicly announced policy regarding the I-League and the commercial deal they had signed with IMG-Reliance when the I-League brand was in its infancy.
It also calls to question comments made by AIFF President Praful Patel and General Secretary Kushal Das, who even last year were asserting that the ISL came into existence because I-League was a "commercial failure"... it appears AIFF had agreed to let I-League fail even before it had a chance to succeed in order to clear the path for ISL.
As things stand, I-League is still the top division league in India, its popularity has gradually increased over the last few years organically despite no promotion and in the recently concluded Super Cup has proved that there is no qualitative difference between I-League and ISL teams. And speaking of the Super Cup...