I-League CEO Sunando Dhar hints at 20 club league, AFC Cup slot for Super Cup champion

THE FIRST SESSION OF the Indian Football Forum, being held in Mumbai today, provided some interesting nuggets of information regarding the future of Indian football.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, Mumbai City CEO Indranil Das Blah and football analyst Arunava Chaudhuri participated in a discussion that ranged from viable cities for clubs to the evolution of league football in India, in a session chaired by Thomas Abraham.

Sunando Dhar conveyed some of the most crucial bits of news on how the AFC-FIFA recommended roadmap, which installs ISL as the new top flight and introduces promotion-relegation a few years down the line, will change Indian football.

While discussing the whole process of restructuring league football in India, Arunava Chaudhuri said,

"You're merging a European style football league, which is the I-League, and an American style franchise league, which is the Indian Super League, into one big football league. It's going to take time... the roadmap says there will be one league with promotion-relegation by 2024-25, I think it'll take till 2030 for the whole system to settle down."

The I-League CEO Sunando Dhar reacted to that statement saying that the new top flight league has an enormous potential for growth in the long run,

"I think given the size of the country, a 20 team league is not impossible in the next 10 years."

Mumbai City CEO Indranil Das Blah also said that the ISL franchises were enthusiastic about a new, bigger ISL with promtion-relegation,

"Contrary to popular belief, all ISL franchises are in favour of promotion-relegation because that's where the drama is... we can see light at the end of the tunnel... anyone who invested thinking they'd be profitable or break even in three to five years were badly advised. All our officials were thoroughly briefed on what this is... this is a long term investment project and ther will be gains in the future, we are committed to that vision."

Later on in the discussion, the topic of AFC slot distribution in light of the recent expansion of AFC Champions League came up. Responding to an audience question about the Super Cup, Mr Dhar said,

"Next season India will get a direct slot in AFC Champions League and 2 slots in AFC Cup. One will of course go to the ISL, one will go to I-League. We have to decide about the third... of course we'd like a Cup champion to get that slot... we've seen clubs not liking it when there's no AFC spot to play for in the Super Cup... I'm all for the Super Cup, even FSDL and sponsors Hero love the Super Cup. It's all about how we can schedule it."

The Mumbai City CEO Indranil Das Blah also highlighted the need for clubs to lean on grassroots as a developmental as well as a promotional tool,

"I grew up in Shillong. The reason football is so popular there is because it's a part of the fabric of society. Even locality games see hundreds of spectators turning up to watch... at Mumbai City, we have focused on community outreach through grassroots... we've found that if you're not spending big on marketing, the best way to reach fans is through involvement in the commutity... still it's a drop in the bucket, but the effort is necessary."

You can watch the entire Indian Football Forum 2019 event here.

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