CHENNAI: After months of speculation, the Asian Football Confederation has finally come out with a decision. Whoever wins the Indian Super League this year will get an AFC Cup entry for their efforts.
Express had reported back in June that this was on the cards and AFC finally made it official after a meeting of their Competitions Committee in Doha. “Following a recommendation from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Competitions Committee gave special dispensation for the Indian Super League (ISL) which will be played simultaneously with the I-League for six or seven months in 2017 and 2018 as a temporary short-term ‘bridging solution’,”a media release said on Tuesday.
“AIFF’s recommendation to the AFC was that the ISL will replace the Federation Cup, whose winner is currently allocated an AFC Cup preliminary stage place.”
“Therefore, the Committee approved that the I-League champions will play in the AFC Champions League Play-off round and the ISL Champions will play in the AFC Cup preliminary stage — as long as all clubs adhere to the AFC rules and regulations, particularly club licensing, from 2018,” the release added.
The AFC though stressed multiple times that this was only a short term measure and that the AIFF had to get their act together in the long run. “The situation will be reviewed on a yearly basis with conditions which, in addition to adherence to club licensing regulations, include promotion, production, a player allocation system and the following of the Road Map agreed between the AFC and Indian football stakeholders at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur on June 7, 2017,” the release said.
The decision will lend some much needed legitimacy to ISL, who have had to contend with the ‘unofficial league’ jabs since its inception. The decision is significant in that Bengaluru FC, which reached the final of the AFC Cup last year and will represent India in the competition next year as well, will have a shot at qualifying for the tournament. The defending Federation Cup champions had moved to the ISL in June despite an AFC Cup slot not being guaranteed then to the ISL winners.