It has been an eventful week for the All India Football Federation (AIFF), one where India's football body has convened its first task force meeting with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Goa on Wednesday. It was a meeting where the AFC effectively handed over responsibility of restructuring Indian domestic football to the AIFF.
"Any decisions on the structure of the game in India are for the AIFF Executive Committee and not the AFC," AFC general secretary Dato' Windsor John told AIFF Media on Wednesday. "The AFC is happy to give support and advice but the important decisions on the format of the proposed new league are purely the domain of the AIFF."
AFC's effective endorsement of AIFF's plans to restructure Indian football, wherein they intend to make the Indian Super League (ISL) the premier league of India, while relegating the current AFC-recognised I-League and its second division to lower levels, comes on the back of AFC president Sheikh Salman's assertion that the two leagues must be merged, as well as FIFA president Gianni Infantino's endorsement of India as a "passionate giant", both of which also happened this week in Goa.
One of the sticking points for the I-League clubs has been that the AIFF has made no mention of whether there will be a time when teams from the future lower divisions will get a chance to gain promotion to the proposed top tier, but AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das has explained that the question is of economic viability in the long run.
"We can't have 20 teams in the top tier, more so because of the competitive gap between them," Das said. "As and when clubs become more sustainable, we will ensure that teams move up from League 1 to the Premier League. Sustainability is the core principle."
Another significant decision made this week was the reinstatement of Aizawl FC, who finished second-last in the last I-League but were relegated due to the immunity offered to Pune's DSK Shivajians. Aizawl then had a dream run to the final of the Federation Cup in 2016.
"Promotion of ISL to the top tier and the resultant demotion of existing I-League isn't a small issue. It affects clubs, players and managements," Aizawl FC president and owner Robert Royte told ESPN. "That said, the existing structure isn't conducive for the development in the country -- two parallel leagues with players being free to play in both. Nowhere in the world do you have this system."
Das defended the move to restructure domestic football, saying that it had the backing of clubs like Shivajians, Aizawl and Shillong Lajong. "Only a couple of Goa clubs have some issues which we will try to resolve. An immediate solution may not be possible, (but we hope to find one) maybe over a few years," he said.
Royte welcomed the suggested road map of the AIFF, though he did admit it will affect his club. He said, "As far as Aizawl FC is concerned, we will move down to the second tier once this new structure is in place so we obviously aren't happy. But in the larger interest of Indian football, streamlining is essential. It's a necessary evil."