Botched up qualification process for Indian Women's League. Will AIFF explain?
The 5th edition of the IWL is merely three weeks away but nobody seems to understand the qualification process for the same.
The Indian Women's League (IWL) has been around for four years now, during which time the tournament has provided a platform to young girls to show what they can do with a ball at their feet. The top division for women's football in the country has seen the likes of Sethu FC and Gokulam Kerala dominate proceedings over the years, while other good teams like Mumbai's Kenkre FC and Kickstart FC from Bangalore have ensured a tough but fair battle. This season, the final round of the IWL is set to begin on April 21 with 12 teams, in what will be its fifth edition. The entire tournament will be held in Odisha.
However, even with the qualifiers in their final stages in most of the states, no one seems to have any idea as to how the 12 teams are being allocated, not even the All India Football Federation (AIFF). While 8 teams are getting direct entry after winning their respective state's qualifying league, others will have to compete in a second qualifying round or 'playoff' round. And this is where the problems start.
1. Two teams are set to qualify for the final round through the playoffs which will feature 11 outfits. This takes the total number of teams in the IWL proper to 10. That's it..!! Nobody knows where the last two teams are coming from. There hasn't been any confirmation from the AIFF and no one, not even the concerned clubs, seem to be bothered about it. One possibility is that clubs from the ISL or I-League bag the final two slots. But that would be massively unfair to the others who have played at least one, and in some cases, two qualifying tournaments to get to the IWL.
2. No one knows how certain states are getting preference over the others, there's no standard practice, no transparency and no one seems to be aware of what they're doing. Take Indira Gandhi Academy for Sports and Education for example. The team won the Pondicherry State Women's League 2020-21 by winning all 10 of their games in which they scored 39 goals and conceded none.
Even after all of this, they were asked to fight it out in the playoffs in Delhi for a place in the final round. And as of Saturday morning, news is coming in that the team has decided to pull out of the playoffs because it is not logistically feasible for them to travel from Pondicherry to Delhi amidst rising Covid cases. Sethu FC, the champions of the Tamil Nadu Women's League, will also be competing in the IWL Playoffs for a place in the final round.
3. Meanwhile, KRYPHSA FC, a team which was not even a part of the State League in Manipur, will be taking part in the qualifiers. The AIFF's rulebook says that in the case of a state not being able to organise its own state league, clubs from there who are willing to participate can do so by submitting their interest to the AIFF via their state association. If that is the rule, then KRYPHSA FC should not be allowed to play even in the qualifiers because Manipur DID have a league which the club chose not to play in. There is also a case of potential 'conflict of interest' surrounding Chaoba Devi, who holds a coaching position at KRYPHSA and is also the Indian national women's team assistant coach. Make of that what you will..!!
4. Two clubs from Kerala, a state which 'could not organise' its women's league citing impact of Covid-19, will also be in the qualifiers. This, coming from a federation that could spend more than sufficient money to organise its flagship Kerala Premier League, currently underway in Ernakulam and Thrissur with the support of a host of sponsors. The end result you ask? Even with such a rich footballing culture in the state, Kerala could not find four teams to be able to arrange a women's league of its own, four being the minimum number of sides required to run a recognised league as per AIFF guidelines.
All of the above points have done nothing but create more confusion and raise more questions. As of now, even the AIFF has no answers as to how and why the clubs are being drafted in the final round or in the qualifiers. Here's how this could have been handled very easily:
16 States have held qualifiers this season, let's have the 16 champions in the final round. Thereafter, if more teams are needed to further increase the size of the league, that could be arranged via a playoff between clubs who submit their interest formally.
A larger league with more teams can only be more beneficial for Indian football, it could help boost the women's team's international FIFA ranking. With important tournaments like the U17 Women's World Cup and the AFC Asian Women's Championship coming up where India will play host, it is imperative that the AIFF scours all parts of the country for talent. A bigger league is the most logical solution. But before that, a little more transparency on their part would be helpful for football lovers in the country.