The I-League and its clubs, who are battling for survival, have found an ally in FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, who has called it India's official league on Tuesday. Infantino believes that India should find the right balance between promotion of football and the protection of its historic clubs.
"The I-League is the official Indian league. Of course, the ISL has had considerable success but it is important that it's going to progress," the FIFA president said.
Since the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL), the AIFF has treated the I-League like an unwanted child and the future of its clubs has come under a lot of speculation. In the latest road map for Indian football presented by the AIFF, the governing body had decided to promote the ISL as the top tier of the Indian football league system with the I-League being demoted to the second spot. The AIFF had also cut off the scope of promotion and relegation of clubs from the ISL to the I-League and vice versa, which has led to the withdrawal of a lot of I-League clubs. However, Infantino has hoped that a middle ground can be reached between the promotion of the game through the ISL and the protection of the clubs which have existed long before the ISL came into existence.
"There are talks and there are discussions and I am sure in a country that is famous for making compromises when it is necessary, some good compromises will be found between the promotion of football and protection of historic clubs. We need to find a balance. I trust the AIFF will take the right decision," hoped Infantino, reported TOI.
"From what I have seen and from what we discussed during the (AIFF) presentation, it is (still) work in progress. It is important that football in India develops," he added.
Perhaps inspired by Infantino's statement, AIFF chief Praful Patel, who was also present at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup logo unveiling event, assured the I-League clubs that their historic legacy will always be protected—a complete change from the cynical comments he made about these clubs on previous occasions.
"On my own, during the presentation, I raised this issue that legacy clubs have a great history, made great contribution to Indian football and we should not do something that hurts their interest," Praful Patel said.
Since the I-League was inaugurated in 2007, a host of Indian clubs have had to shut down operations, however, Patel is not too bothered about these developments.
"I would not be so unduly bothered about a team coming or going," Patel had said earlier this month.
However, the evening ended on a positive note with Infantino citing India as a 'passionate giant' and praising the 'enthusiasm' the nation has for the game.
"I see the enthusiasm that the people have here. I have seen the passion of the media. I know of former players who played here in the last couple of years and they have all told (me) of the kind of passion there is in this country for football. If we can structure this passion, the future looks really bright," the FIFA President said.