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EXCLUSIVE: Promotion from I-League to ISL to start next season, assures CEO Sunando Dhar

PLANS TO IMPLEMENT the AFC-FIFA roadmap for Indian club football - including promotion-relegation - are still on track, AIFF's CEO of Leagues Mr Sunando Dhar has reiterated.

As part of the roadmap, the I-League champions of 2022-23 season are supposed to be promoted into the Indian Super League. But recently some of the I-League clubs have been seeking reassurance from the Federation as well as the AFC that the promotion into ISL would indeed be applied.

On top of that, a quote in a recent interview of Mr Dhar caused some confusion among Indian football fans. In it, he is quoted as saying,

"We'll have the promotion in a couple of years and then the relegation format will start too and that's when we’ll have a perfect system in place."

The phrase "promotion in a couple of years" made some people think that the promotion from I-League into ISL would be implemented a couple of years later, not next season as mandated by the roadmap.

But Mr Dhar has clarified to TFG that the quote in question had an error that created a false impression,

"It’s a mistake from the interviewer… I had said, as per the roadmap promotion starts from next year (that is Hero I-League 2022-23 winners gets to play Hero ISL 2023-24) and relegation from ISL starts couple of years later."

The AIFF and FSDL have already agreed to implement the roadmap. An early clause of the agreement which mandated that they must "open a pathway for two I-League clubs’ entry into the ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season" was fulfilled ahead of schedule when East Bengal and Mohun Bagan joined the ISL in 2020.

Last year, the Federation's General Secretary Kushal Das said that the implementation of the roadmap was on track despite the pandemic disrupting all sports including Indian football.

Multiple I-League clubs including Mohammedan Sporting, Aizawl FC, Gokulam Kerala FC, Sudeva Delhi FC and RoundGlass Punjab FC have all expressed interest in earning a promotion to ISL by merit; some making it their express goal for to achieve within the first two-three seasons where promotion is implemented. And going by Mr Dhar's assurances, their long awaited opportunity is going to arrive within months when the next season of I-League kicks off.

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