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I-League clubs request PM to 'intervene and save Indian football'

On the eve of an All India Football Federation (AIFF) executive committee meeting in New Delhi that could decide on their future, six I-League clubs have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to set up an enquiry commission and "probe" the federation's functioning.

The AIFF is due to discuss the elevation of the franchise-based Indian Super League (ISL) to the top division at the expense of the I-League, and one of the officials from the I-League clubs told ESPN, "We know exactly what's going to happen -- they are going to make ISL the top league. It will be a miracle if it isn't. We are cornered, and we don't know what to do."

In a letter signed by Swapan Sadhan Bose, managing director of Mohun Bagan, the I-League clubs have urged the Prime Minister to "intervene and save the sport".

Besides Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Churchill Brothers, FC Goa, Gokulam Kerala FC, Minerva Punjab FC and Aizawl FC are the other clubs who have requested for the PM's intervention.

"Recent media reports and press statements from the AIFF itself have indicated that the AIFF is seeking to make the ISL, which came into existence in 2013, the senior most league in the country, whereas I-League, that dates back to 2007 when it was launched as India's first ever professional football league is sought to be made into a second tier and inferior league," the clubs wrote in the letter.

"There is a sharp decline in the standard of Indian football. Football is one of the most popular sports in the world, including India, but this popularity has not been matched by necessary and good administration as far as the national body is concerned."

It is unlikely that the government can intervene in this matter anyway, as FIFA statutes themselves require a national federation to "be independent and avoid any form of government interference" in their daily functioning. Further, AIFF president Praful Patel last week assured the I-League clubs that their future is secure and said he will approach the AFC to ensure the I-League continues to co-exist with the ISL for a few more years.

Among other issues, in the meeting with Praful, the clubs had sought clarification on the controversial move to accord Indian Super League the top tier status in Indian football as per the Master Right Agreement (MRA) signed between the AIFF and IMG-Reliance in 2010.

The club official also told ESPN that the I-League clubs would be prepared to go to court to challenge the legality of the MRA, if required.

"We are not going to go against the federation," the official said. "We are not going to court to say which is the top league -- we are going to go to court to challenge the legality of the contract. If the contract is termed illegal, everything else is sorted automatically."

One official from East Bengal sought to distance the club from the letter, though. "This is a matter between our sponsors Quess and the AIFF," he said. "As far as the club is concerned, we are getting ready to register our squad in this season's I-League, and do not wish to comment on anything the other clubs are doing."

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