Promotion, relegation good for Indian football

The Indian Super League (ISL) season drew to a close over the weekend, with ATK Mohun Bagan edging Bengaluru FC on penalties in the final held in Goa.

Published: 21st March 2023 08:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2023 08:30 AM   |  A+A-

ATK Mohun Bagan players celebrate after winning the Indian Super League 2022-23 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa, March 18, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

The Indian Super League (ISL) season drew to a close over the weekend, with ATK Mohun Bagan edging Bengaluru FC on penalties in the final held in Goa. It was a season of twists and turns, which gave the country a couple of new names to discuss ahead of the Asian Cup in early 2024. It had been that kind of a tournament where the end was not scripted in black and white but had its share of suspense, drama (marked by walkouts and refereeing controversies) and of course, some hype as well. Perhaps, the most significant of these names will be Tamil Nadu boy N Sivasakthi, who had a breakout season with Bengaluru FC, the club that had to claw back from the brink this time.

Looking ahead, the next season is supposed to be a landmark one for Indian football. Ever since the premier footballing event, ISL, was anointed as the country’s top division over the I-League, playing in Indian football’s highest tier has remained a pipe dream for all clubs who did not pay the franchise fee to Football Sports Development Limited, the body which operates the league. The ISL, so far, has been a closed league with no club getting relegated or promoted. The scenario was far from ideal for making it to the top as it motivates lesser clubs to produce talent and develop a fanbase. Otherwise, the attempt to popularise the game and take it to the grassroots might get hindered. The concept of promotion and relegation gives a different competitive edge to the leagues.

This has led to some amazing underdog stories across the world. Leicester City FC, who were champions of England in 2015, were playing in the country’s third tier just seven years before. India, too, has seen such fairy tales. Aizawl FC won the I-League in 2017 after initially rising to the national level by winning the second division a couple of seasons prior.

All that is supposed to change from next season. A roadmap charted by officials of the Asian Football Confederation a couple of years ago finally saw the ISL agree to the winner of the I-League promoted to their ranks. That is supposed to start from the 2023–24 season. This year, the I-League was won by RoundGlass Punjab FC. However, it is not yet certain if they will play in the ISL. One would hope that plans are not altered and the concept of promotion and relegation will once again return to Indian football.


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