Promoted clubs go up, relegated clubs go down while the rest remain where they are. This should ideally be the logic governing league football everywhere but not in India!
As the dust settles on Bengaluru FC’s stunning title win in their maiden top flight season, clarity is yet to emerge on who will be playing in India’s premier football competition next year.
The All India Football Federation, on Saturday, announced their intention to invite tenders for floating new I-League clubs, following the same process as the one that saw the birth of Bengaluru FC and their stillborn cousin Mumbai Tigers. The bid documents can be obtained from the AIFF headquarters from May 6 and the last date for submitting a bid is June 2. If selected, these teams can play in the I-League this season.
“We have been buoyed by the success of Bengaluru FC and are sure that this will encourage more prospective bidders to come forward. If we get one club which fulfills all the criteria, we will be happy. We won’t be too bothered if we cannot find any bidder willing to meet all the conditions. Therefore, I do not want to say we are looking for a certain number of new clubs. But at the same time, I do not believe the I-League can currently accommodate more than 16 clubs,” said I-League CEO Sunando Dhar.
Those unfamiliar with twists and turns that Indian football so often take, might interpret Dhar’s comments to mean that there are three new I-League clubs up for grabs via auction, given that there are 13 teams already and the official is saying the number shouldn’t exceed 16. But thanks to the AIFF’s aggressive stance over the fulfillment of club licensing criteria, the reality is that only Pune FC, who passed the test last year, can proclaim with confidence that they will be a part of the I-League season. The evaluation of clubs for the upcoming season is underway and the results could be out soon.
“It remains to be seen if an existing club will be barred. We had agreed back then that every club can fail once and everyone bar Pune FC have done so last year. So the results of the evaluation will be vital for the clubs this year. I think most clubs have done a great job in meeting the regulations,” said Dhar.
If the AIFF are serious about strictly enforcing the club licensing regulations, only Bengaluru FC and new entrants Royal Wahingdoh, both of whom were not evaluated last year, can afford to come up short. Dhar also told TNIE that the upcoming season of the I-League will start only in December, once the Indian Super League draws to a conclusion.