Replacing the Indian Super League, the I-League could regain its status as the country's top-tier football competition, as per the draft constitution formulated by the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA).
If the draft constitution for the All India Football Federation (AIFF), which CoA members—former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi and ex-India captain Bhaskar Ganguli—had submitted to the SC in January 2020 and made public now, is any evidence, the franchise-based ISL is set to lose its prominence.
Point 33 of Article 1 of the draft states, "I-League is the seniormost top division league competition in India owned, operated and recognised by the AIFF." Point 58 of Article 1 states, "Seniormost top division league shall mean the league competition owned, operated and recognised by the AIFF, that implements the principles of promotion and relegation, and meets all requirements prescribed by the AFC for being eligible to obtain a direct slot in the Asian Champions League." While the CoA recommendations are likely to face opposition from various quarters, it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court approves the panel's proposed constitution.
On May 18, the SC appointed its former judge AR Dave to head the three-member panel and tasked it with managing the affairs of the AIFF while ousting the Praful Patel-led the executive committee which had been at the helm for two years more than its tenure of four years.
It had asked the CoA to pave the way for election under a new constitution adhering to the sports code.
In a 2017 order, the SC had appointed a CoA comprising Quraishi and Ganguly to formulate the constitution of the AIFF in consonance with the National Sports Code.
The AIFF elections were due in December 2020 but it did not go ahead with the polls, citing the pending case in the Supreme Court regarding its constitution.
Patel completed his three terms and 12 years as AIFF president in December 2020, the maximum permitted to a national sports federation chief under the Sports Code.
The AIFF moved an application in the SC only a month before its elections were due, seeking "certain clarifications" on the status of its constitution, which was under scrutiny in the apex court since 2017.
Earlier, the ISL, jointly organised by the AIFF and its commercial partners, was granted the top-tier status at the expense of I-League, as part of structural changes in the domestic game in India.
That was after a roadmap was formulated in a meeting of the I-League and ISL clubs with the officials of the AIFF and the Asian Football Federation in Kuala Lumpur in October 2019.
The officials of FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited), the organisers of the ISL, were also present in that meeting.
The proposal was floated in June 2019 by the AIFF when it announced that the ISL would take over from the I-League India's AFC Champions League qualifier slot from 2019-20, paving the way for ISL to become the country's top-tier football competition.
I-League clubs had initially protested and asked for the introduction of promotion and relegation to allow them to take part in the ISL.