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ISL set to be India's top league; I-League clubs' AFC Cup spot in doubt

The AIFF is still undecided about the Asian competition slots and is awaiting the AFC's recommendations.

ISL set to be Indias top league; I-League clubs AFC Cup spot in doubt

The Bridge Desk

Published: 21 Sep 2019 7:58 AM GMT

Up until this year, the slots for Indian clubs in continental competitions was pretty much sorted. India has two slots for Asian competitions — the I-League champions would play in the AFC Champions League play-off while the winners of the Cup competition (Indian Super League last season) would get a place in the AFC Cup.

But, recently, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) executive committee gave the go ahead for ISL to be considered as the country’s top league in accordance with the 2010 Master Rights Agreement. This means that this year’s ISL winners would qualify directly for the AFC Champions League play-off.

The development triggered controversies and the issue became complicated. Now, according to a report in the Times of India, the AIFF is still undecided about the slots and is awaiting the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) recommendations.

As per the report, AFC general secretary Windsor John has held meetings over the last couple of days with AIFF president Praful Patel and general secretary Kushal Das in Mumbai and a solution can be expected early next month.

Das was quoted saying:

Dato Windsor had come to meet Patel for various reasons and Indian football was also discussed. They are reviewing (India's continental slots) and in a few days, hopefully, they will come up with their recommendations. 

The AIFF executive committee has given ISL the top slot and normally AFC goes by what the member association recommends. What we are trying to figure out is the second slot (for I-League).

Apparently, the AFC is fine with the AIFF’s decision to restructure the Indian football for the 2019-20 season but the national body’s request for an AFC Cup slot for I-League champions is a little trickier.

The guidelines for AFC Club Competitions, the first slot is allotted to "winner of the national top division league," while the second is reserved for "winner of the national knock-out cup.”

Should the Member Association (MA) not have a national knock-out cup (Article 12.3), the "winner of the national top division league and runner-up of the national top division league" gets the two spots.

How this impacts Indian football

Previously, it was the Federation Cup champions who got the second slot but the competition has since been discontinued. Last year, the ISL champions were given the second slot. As things stand, the AIFF can still classify the Super Cup as the knockout competition.

However, one can guarantee that such a move would invite a huge backlash from I-League clubs. The I-League has been India's top league since it's inception. To suddenly strip it off of its status and also take away a slot in Asian competitions will be a massive blow to the clubs who will have nothing left.

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