AIFF panel proposes 3 + 1 foreigner rule for ISL, I-League from 2021

Edu Garcia celebrates after scoring in the 2019-20 ISL final. The new regulations will see the number of non-Asian foreigners in the playing XI reduced to three. Ron Gaunt / SPORTZPICS for ISL

The 3 (Foreigners) + 1 (Asian) recruit rule should be applicable to all Indian domestic league competitions after the 2021 season onwards, the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) technical committee has unanimously recommended.

This rule would mean that a maximum of four foreigners (one of whom must be Asian) can take to the field as opposed to the five foreigners (continent no bar) that current regulations allow in Indian competitions.

This new recommendation is in line with current Asian Football Confederation regulations for participation in AFC Club competitions. The committee also said that should AFC change this rule, the changes are to be implemented domestically as well.

This move to replicate AFC quotas would help Indian clubs compete better on a continental stage, as they would be used to playing under the 3 + 1 system.

This season, Bengaluru FC had failed to move beyond the playoff stages of the AFC Cup 2020, with the former ISL champions accustomed to taking the field with five foreigners during the regular season. During their two-legged playoff against Maziya of Maldives, for instance, full back Rino Anto was given a start in defence by coach Carles Cuadrat despite having clocked just 14 minutes as a substitute through the rest of the ISL season.

BFC, playing in the I-League where the 3 + 1 rule was in force until 2016-17, had become the first Indian club to have made the AFC Cup final in 2016, but since then no Indian club has come close to replicating that level of performance.

Meanwhile, national team coach, Igor Stimac, had earlier stated that the lack of this restriction on the number of foreign players was standing in the way of producing a future Sunil Chhetri, and had suggested that India follow the AFC rule. "It's not strange that that most successful Asian countries are following that rule and that is why they are successful," Stimac had said, adding "That is why they have option for national team to have strikers, offensive midfielders and the centre-backs."

On another topic that has been the source of much debate in indian footballing circles, the question of changing the Persons of Indian Origin/Overseas Citizen of India (PIO/OCI) rule (not) allowing players of Indian origin to represent the country wasn't taken up by the committee, since there is no clarity on the matter from the Sports Ministry at present.