New Delhi: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) Tuesday decided to recommend the winners of Indian Super League to play in the AFC Champions League qualifiers, virtually according ISL the status of the country's top tier competition. The executive committee of the AIFF, which met here, will recommend the Asian Football Confederation to positively consider its request to grant ISL's winning team the ACL qualifier slot. The winning team of the I-League, the official top tier competition till date, has so far been playing in the qualifying round of the ACL, Asia's top tier club competition.
I-League 2017-18 champions Minerva Punjab FC played in the ACL qualifying round this year. Normally, the slots of continental top-tier competition across the world are given to the clubs playing in the national top division leagues. Under the Entry Manual for AFC Club Competitions for 2017-2020, the ACL slots are distributed among teams of the member countries of Asia which plays in their respective national top division league. "In the light of MRA as well as the fact that in the last 5 years the entire national squad are mostly being signed/playing for ISL clubs, and TV viewership and in-stadia audience having grown far more substantially vis-a-vis I-League, and ISL clubs complying with the entire AFC Club Licensing criteria, including strong grassroots, and youth development programmes which had also been certified by AFC, the AIFF Executive Committee recommends to the AFC to positively consider their request," the AIFF said in a statement.
The MRA was signed in 2010 between the AIFF and Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which runs the the ISL. FSDL is a subsidiary of AIFF's commercial partners IMG-Reliance. The ACL slot has been the bone of contention between the AIFF and six I-League clubs, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Minerva Punjab, Churchill Brothers, Aizwal FC and Gokulam Kerala, which had said that giving ISL winners the ACL slot will demote the I-League to second tier competition. They have also pointed out that ISL is a closed league without promotion or demotion as is the case anywhere in the world. In a meeting with these six I-League clubs on July 3, AIFF president Praful Patel had said he will approach the AFC to ensure that the status quo remains and both the league continue to co-exist for another 2-3 years.
- Press Trust of India