As Indian football goes into celebratory mode to rejoice the 75th anniversary of Indian football, a storm is brewing beneath, which is threatening to explode into a major confrontation. Scratch the surface of the gala events that will unfold to mark the occasion on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of August 2012, and it will reveal a story that is all too familiar in Indian sport – neglect by the officials running the body, who have nothing to show for despite occupying the chair for so many years.
A major meeting of the I-League committee is expected to be held on the 23rd of August, a day after the inaugural Nehru Cup match and that meeting promises to be a stormy affair with the I-league clubs threatening to revolt against the proposed two month IPL styled League formulated by IMG Reliance, currently on the anvil.
What is this franchisee-based League all about?
After the flip-flop on Kolkata’s Premier League Soccer (PLS), where the AIFF first okayed the League and then withdrew permission at the last moment – the AIFF along with their marketing partners are keen to start a League on the similar lines. However it has garnered severe criticism from all the Indian clubs. The contention of the IPFCA is that this would sound the death knell of the existing clubs in India.
According to IMG Reliance, this new League would be held after the conclusion of the I-League and it would involve teams based on the franchisee model. About eight teams would participate in this League that would have marquee foreign players (about 6 in each team). However in the recent meeting of the AIFF with delegates of FIFA on the 30th and 31st of July, which was attended by representatives of Pune FC, Sporting Clube de Goa, Dempo Sports Club, Prayag United and Shillong Lajong FC – the FIFA flatly refused to recognize this new concept by AIFF. At best FIFA said they would consider this tournament as a “promotional tournament” and said that a two month League cannot be classified as a National League.
The clubs also explained to FIFA how the rights of AIFF were completely sold to IMG-Reliance and that none of the revenue of the I-League trickled down to the clubs. The FIFA in its address to the clubs were sympathetic to the clubs problems and assured to speak to the AIFF regarding the same.
Certainly the AIFF has got into a mess that is now becoming increasingly difficult for them to get out of. With their commercial rights completely sold off for the next 15 years, there is nothing that the AIFF can do to change the situation. On the other hand IMG, who have invested 700 crores for this project are too feeling the pinch. After being two years into Indian football, they are slowly realizing that making revenue under the present circumstances in Indian football is becoming increasingly difficult and hence the franchise model is being mooted by them to recover their massive investment into Indian football.
However if the League eventually goes through, it would definitely have major repercussions on Indian football. The first to feel the heat would be the existing clubs inIndia. Apart from Pune FC, Mumbai FC, United Sikkim and to some extent Shillong Lajong – none of the other clubs would classify to be included in the new league simply because they are not city based teams and are mostly institutional based. That would mean the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Dempo, Salgaocar etc may risk being dumped out of the new League after being associated with Indian football for more than 70 years and investing more than 150 crores each since their inception.
Although the AIFF has clearly said that the I-League will co-exist, it is simply ridiculous on AIFF’s part to think that teams would agree to this idea because the two month League will certainly deflect attention from the I-League, leading it to becoming redundant and killing the I-league as a product.
The Battle : Clubs v AIFF
The birth of the I-League Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) was a result of a direct fall-out between the clubs and the AIFF – the biggest bone of contention being the refusal of the AIFF to make the I-League a separate legal entity. At present, this is what happens across the globe in developed footballing countries. Take England for example, where the Football Association (FA) – the governing body of football in England has no control over the Premier League - which is a separate legal entity having majority of its members from the participating clubs. Although the Premier League board comes under the purview of the English FA, matters concerning the Premier League are taken by the Premier League Board having a separate CEO and they even have the power to veto any decision taken by the English FA regarding the Premier League.
In other words, the Premier league clubs have a major say in the running of the English Premier League – exactly the opposite of what is happening in India.
In India, despite the clubs together pumping in more than 100 crores per year into Indian football, they are not reaping the benefits and all profits are presently going to the AIFF and their marketing partners. Although the AIFF pays for the travel allowance of the teams and gives a Rs, 70,000 organizational subsidy for each match, it is certainly not enough for clubs to sustain themselves. The gate collection – in the absence of proper marketing and infrastructure – is dwindling every seaso,n making it increasingly difficult for the teams to earn profits. The major fall-out between the clubs and the AIFF has been the reluctance of the AIFF Executive Committee to relinquish power over the I-League and to let the stakeholders (clubs) have a major say in running the premier competition in the country.
The present scenario in Indian football in somewhat like this – all major decisions pertaining to the I-League are taken by the AIFF Executive Committee – the highest decision making body on football in India – where there is no representitives from any of the I-League clubs, except for Larsing Ming (owner of Shillong Lajong, who is also the secretary of the Meghalaya Football Association). So in other words, the clubs keep on putting in money, but have no say whatsoever in the running of the I-League. As Rajeev Piramal, owner of Pune FC, put it in an interview with Goal.com -
“The AIFF and IMG-Reliance deal is so structured that the clubs will see no money for the next 15 years”
The AIFF Executive Committee is also, allegedly, a lobby run body dominated by people from a certain region known to have their own say in matters. The internal bickering and the possession of chairs in the Executive Committee, by people who have done nothing for Indian football, is seriously hampering the growth of football inIndia. Across the globe, the revenue earned from sponsorship and television rights, trickles down to the clubs, – something which is not happening in India due to the fact that the AIFF Executive Committee controls the I-league. Ideally, the clubs should own the I-league and should have a major say in the revenue model of the League.
(To be continued in Part II)