India federation to merge I-League with Super League by 2020

he All India Football Federation intends to merge the embryonic Indian Super League with the country’s established I-League by 2020, the AIFF general secretary said.

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DUBAI // The All India Football Federation (AIFF) intends to merge the embryonic Indian Super League with the country’s established I-League by 2020, the AIFF general secretary said on Wednesday.

Kushal Das, speaking at a two-day host cities summit in Dubai, said he expects the country’s two leagues to merge into a single competition within five years and predicted an arrangement that would see 14-16 teams from across the country compete for eight month per year.

“That’s the vision,” he said.

While the 10-team I-League launched in 2007, the eight-team ISL’s inaugural season kicked off last month amid much hype and involving several marquee players, including Alessandro Del Piero and Fredrik Ljungberg. Historically, India has a strong football fan base and will host the 2017 Fifa Under-17 World Cup, but domestically, the sport has struggled to attract fans to the stadiums.

Das said the ISL is changing that.

“The ISL and I-League are both products of the IFA [Indian Football Association],” Das said. “They are a means to an end – and the end is the development of Indian football. What the ISL is doing is creating an appetite for Indian football, which was missing for some time.

“A lot of people are coming to the grounds to see Indian football, so it will help the I-League as well.

“The infrastructure has been improved, the pitches have been refurbished and all that helps the I-League. So [the two leagues] can co-exist for sometime now and then we’ll see at a later stage how to have one league.”

Das said the average match-day attendance for the ISL in its first season is around 25,000, while the I-League traditionally has attracted around 12,000 or 13,000.

The average I-League attendance is skewed, however, by the Kolkata Derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, which can attract upwards of 100,000 spectators.

The ISL wants to attract a different demographic to the I-League, similar to that of the successful Indian Premier League cricket model.

“There’s a totally different profile,” he said. “If you go to any ISL game, you see a lot of young people and families, just like the IPL .

“They are two competing leagues, so there’s a fear there could be a problem, but many of the clubs have started to realise that it could actually be helpful to them and that’s why many [I-League teams] are loaning players to the ISL clubs.”

Das noted that Manchester City are in discussions regarding investing in an ISL team, similar to the ties between Atletico Madrid and Atletico de Kolkata.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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