With the ISL becoming open to relegation and promotion, AIFF’s motif to redesign the domestic structure are finally in motion…
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has ratified the roadmap prepared by the top brass of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) following a meeting in Kuala Lumpur which confirms that the Indian Super League (ISL) will cease to be a closed league from the 2022-23 season.
Although no teams will be relegated in that season, the I-League winners will get to participate in the top league by virtue of merit and not by paying any franchise fee. From the following season, relegation will take place which would ensure that AIFF’s plan to set up a full-fledged three-tier domestic system will be in motion.
Also from the 2024-25 season, the ISL and the AIFF’s knockout cup winners will get the continental slots as I-League will officially become India‘s second division.
The federation has always stated that their intention is to design a robust league structure which would make sure that every stakeholder in Indian football gets a fair chance to play at the highest level on merit. With the roadmap finally, in place, they have executed their promises to perfection.
With the relegation in place across all divisions, even a team from the third tier (the current second-division) can take part in ISL, provided that they make the necessary upgrades in infrastructure and fulfill all the guidelines that the ISL organisers update from time to time.
The make-shift arrangement of two leagues running simultaneously for three more seasons is a part of the plan which would allow the I-League sides the necessary time to recalibrate their system and make the necessary upgrades so that they can compete at the highest level when promoted in the 2023-24 season. Meanwhile. the I-League continues to be recognised as an AFC product as an AFC Cup play-off slot has been granted to them.
The AIFF had had previously stated that it would be difficult to implement the recommendations of the AFC/FIFA report in every letter and spirit but the governing body would work to draft a design that would help benefit Indian football. With a three-tier league system set to be in place, India has taken another step in the right direction. This would ensure more participation of clubs and with an open league system would motivate every entity to compete better so that they can end up with a spot in the top division.
With this expansion plan now duly sealed and rubber-stamped by AFC, the critiques of Indian football will hopefully find something to cheer about.