THE I-LEAGUE COMMITTEE meeting at AIFF Football House in Delhi yesterday has come up with a number of proposals that will make things slightly better for clubs in the upcoming season. Apart from increased prize money and scrapping the largely impractical marquee player rule, they have proposed resurrecting the prestigious Federation Cup that was scrapped earlier this year. These proposals will now go to the league's Executive Committee to get final approval.
The committee has recommended a significant increase in the amount of prize money attached to the league. The champions, who were awarded Rs 70 lakhs last season (albeit after waiting for months), will get Rs 1 crore this time. The clubs placed 2nd and 3rd will get Rs 60 lakhs and Rs 40 lakhs respectively. There will also be an award of Rs 25 lakhs for the club placed 4th.
Apart from the prize money, the budget allocated to organizing the matches will get a lift as well. The matchday operations subsidy, which was a measly Rs 30,000 last season, has been raised to Rs 1 lakh. The travel subsidy for teams has also been raised to Rs 45 lakhs.
The issue of broadcasting the league was also discussed. Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the organization created by IMG-Reliance to carry out its partnership operations with AIFF and Basketball Federation of India (BFI), has assured the clubs that this time the number of matches televised will go up from 75% to 90%. They told the clubs that they were in talks with "the broadcasters", although the identity of the network that will carry out the broadcast has not been revealed. However, rumours flying around suggest the telecast rights may change hands from the TEN Network, who have been showing the I-League for quite a few seasons now.
The meeting, which was chaired by Ankur Dutta (Vice Chairman, I-League Committee) and attended by Kushal Das (AIFF General Secretary), Sunando Dhar (CEO, I-League), Subrata Dutta (Vice President, AIFF) and representatives from all I-League clubs, saw opposition to the marquee player rule across the table. The club representatives argued that such a stipulation was a hindrance, financially and tactically, for most clubs to form the best team possible. In the end it was decided that the rule would be scrapped.
But the big proposal that came out of this meeting was that of resurrecting the Federation Cup. It was brought up during a discussion about the league's format. Since the I-League has lost 3 of its clubs over the last few months, the upcoming season will see only 9 teams participate in it; which, if played in normal league format, offers only 16 matches for every club. This lands them in the danger of missing out on qualification for AFC tournaments because the Asian football governing body mandates that a club must play at least 18 matches per season to be eligible for participation in the continental championships.
To increase the number of matches, many alternatives were being thought of; including the introduction of playoffs after the regular season. But East Bengal's representative Arunava Bhattacharya raised the proposal of bringing the Federation Cup back, as an 8-team knockout competition played in home-away format to be held over a month during May. The idea was liked by all clubs and it made it into the recommendations.
While the resurrection of the prestigious Federation Cup, the most coveted cup tournament in Indian football, is a great news for any football fan in India, there are still some roadblocks it must overcome to become a reality. To make room for it, the I-League will have to be wrapped up by April. But with Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC needing time for their AFC Champions League / AFC Cup commitments and the national team set to play more World Cup Qualifier matches from March onwards, it will be difficult to make that happen.
It will be interesting to see how the I-League Executive Committee acts on these proposals. Most of them are expected to be approved, but the question mark over Federation Cup's re-birth will remain until it gets the official green flag from IMG-Reliance. But now that the I-League is set to be merged with the ISL, the depleted Indian football landscape can start a healing process, and bringing back Federation Cup can play a major role in making that happen.