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MERGER MAP: All about promotion-relegation; grassroots programme; licensing criteria; number of teams likely in ISL

THE MAN BEHIND THE MERGER, Chirag Tanna, has finally addressed one of the key aspects of the future of re-structured league football in India: promotion-relegation in the top division.

Speaking at the Star Sports India Football Forum 2016 in New Delhi, the General Manager at Reliance Indian Limited, Sports and Integration (formerly the Head of Operations at I-League club Pune FC) laid out the difficulties caused by a domestic calendar divided between ISL and I-League, and the reason Indian football needs to proceed towards unifying these leagues at the soonest,

"The split domestic calendar reduces the marketability of the leagues, and the national team coach complains that he can't get enough time with his players. The proposal to have a three-tier league system with ISL at the top and a fourth lower tier added later will address that. The number of clubs in ISL and the divisions below will increase. And we will also take the football culture of the city into account when taking up a club. All clubs will have to fulfil licensing criterias set by AIFF and AFC, to ensure they all contribute to infrastructure and grassroots development."

Responding to TFG's query about whether or not promotion-relegation between the top two divisions (something according to the proposed league re-structuring plan will not be implemented initially) will be used as a means of drawing in more eyeballs to the league via the novelty of new teams every season and a bottom table survival contest, Tanna said that IMG-Reliance was, in fact, in favour of introducing it in the new top division league,

"After a certain period we would want to have promotion-relegation. We will make sure that the structure is stable first, where the investors can actually recover their money from their clubs whether it's in ISL or League One. That will be done through more matches being televised and promoted aggressively. Once we are in the position to provide a good amount of parachute money to clubs being relegated, we will introduce promotion-relegation. It is definitely something we want to do."

When asked when the fans can expect to see an open league at the top, however, he evaded a straight answer, saying,

"It's not about the timeline for us. It's about meeting those targets in terms of strengthening the league system across divisions. There's an absolutely honest effort from our end to get that done as soon as possible."

In a presentation to the attendees, Mr. Tanna also highlighted the efforts put in by IMG-Reliance to strengthen the grassroots in Indian football. An expansive grassroots project, he said, will reach a vast number of talented players across disciplines in the next few years,

"We started with festivals and camps in the eight ISL venues and after trials throughout the country chose 40 talented players, who are currently training in Navi Mumbai under the care of the Reliance Foundation Young Champs academy. That was just the first year, and there is a well-structured expansion plan to our activities planned where we spread out to more cities. We also have Reliance Foundation Youth Sports, which is the school and college sports program covering multiple disciplines. Since we started with football, it was easiest to start school and college football at the 8 ISL venues. RFYS aims too spread to over 120 cities in the next 5 years and cover basketball and athletics as well."

His presentation also spelled out a plan for an increased number of televised matches. The 2017-18 season, which was shown as the target for implementing the re-structured league, will see 95 ISL matches televised (home-away round robin, double leg semi-finals and one final). This indicates that the plan is to have 10 teams in the ISL in that season.

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