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I-League clubs write to FIFA about AIFF's attempts to forcefully relegate top flight clubs

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE rebel alliance of six I-League clubs met on Tuesday in their first meeting since AIFF unilaterally announced their intention to snatch the prized AFC Champions League Qualfiers slot away from I-League champions and handing them to ISL winners, which would effectively relegate I-League and all its clubs to second tier status.

Officials from existing top flight clubs like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Gokulam Kerala FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Aizawl FC and Churchill Brothers FC Goa have been opposing this forceful relegation for a long time. They have also warned of taking AIFF to court and called into question the legal validity of the Master Rights Agreement between AIFF and their commercial partners FSDL, who organize the ISL and enjoy wide ranging control over major competition under the AIFF banner, including the I-League.

The clubs recently wrote to the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi informing the central government of the unfolding situation and requested a probe into the AIFF-FSDL commercial deal. The clubs are still open to future legal action against AIFF, but decided to pull all possible stops before it comes to that.

As part of that effort, they have now decided to write to FIFA, asking them to intervene and seek a resolution of the current dual league system in Indian football that has led to this crisis.

FIFA have been indirectly involved in trying to solve this situation before. In 2017, AFC and FIFA sent a team of experts to study the Indian football landscape and suggest solutions. The report was submitted to AIFF, who till this day have not officially released it to the public. However, last year TFG obtained a copy of this report; and revealed to fans the elaborate solutions proposed by the delegates which included forming a unified league system by 2019, and a way to incorporate promotion-relegation from its very inception.

Following the AFC/FIFA suggestions would have solved the current problems, but the AIFF have been unable to follow through on that so far. Praful Patel's suggested "3 year interim period" while the AIFF figures out a permanent solution, too, has not been accepted by the rebel I-League clubs since it includes major one-sided sacrifices from I-League clubs; namely giving up their top flight status and the AFC Champions League slot that was hard earned by I-League clubs by repeatedly reaching the top four or higher in the AFC Cup.

It remains to be seen if FIFA agrees with the I-League clubs' appeal for intervention, or continues to view this as a domestic matter to be solved by AIFF and their stakeholders.

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