I-League CEO Sunanda Dhar expressed his disappointment in Dempo FC pulling out of the competition, and said the Goan clubs needed to do some introspection before pointing fingers at others. Dempo’s decision comes a few days after other Goan clubs —Sporting Club De Goa and Salgaocar FC — moved away from top-tier football owing to concerns with the new road-map for the game in India.
“It is unfortunate that the Goan clubs are pulling out. They have contributed a lot, not just for Goan football, but for Indian football. While they are pointing fingers at others, Goan clubs also need to do some introspection on why the fans stopped coming for their matches,” said Dhar.
“Five-six years back there were a lot of fans in Goan football. Why did only 500 people turn up for Sporting’s home semi-final match against Bengaluru FC in the Federation Cup? And it’s not like Goans have stopped loving football because we have seen a huge turnout for FC Goa’s matches. You cannot say it is the impact of ISL because then it should have affected Kolkata and other parts of the country too. Yet we saw a 35% increase in stadium turn-out and a 13% increase in TV viewership for the I-League. Do you think the fans would have allowed Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or Bengaluru FC to pull-out? Maybe the Goan clubs have lost the connection with the fans. Maybe they haven’t done enough for them,” added the I-League CEO.
The AIFF had met in May to decide the future of Indian football and came out with a proposal to have a three-tier League with the ISL as the premier domestic competition, while the current I-League became second division. The top-division would be relegation-free due to contractual obligations, while the other two divisions would function like a normal league with relegation and promotion.
The proposal had caused a huge uproar among the traditional Indian clubs which did not understand as to why they had to play second fiddle to ISL, especially with no promise of a promotion into the top-tier league.
“If the ISL does not get relegated and Second division gets promoted, then why not let I-League teams get promoted? Why let the teams in I-League stagnate?” said Dempo FC general secretary Wilfred D’Souza.
“We had expressed our concerns on the new roadmap of Indian football and the merger of the Leagues (Indian Super League, I-League and I-League second division) proposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). They had promised to come out with a solution, but they still haven’t addressed the grievances of all the three clubs from Goa,” he added.
Dhar confirmed that the AIFF had not set any rules for the ‘proposed League’. “Nothing has been decided. The plans are something which we have been discussing. It’s just a proposal. We haven’t set any criteria. We wanted 12 teams to play in the top league, but we never said we are going to reject X team and accept Y team. We have always insisted that we want one league and that league should have all the top teams. So do they not consider themselves as top teams?”
Dempo’s pull-out puts the future of I-League in further doubt though with only seven clubs — East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru FC, DSK Shivajians, Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong and Aizawl FC — remaining. The AIFF has invited bids for places in the League with Chennai City FC, Minerva FC and Barthez Goa interested.
The AIFF president, Praful Patel, general secretary, Kushal Das and the five vice-presidents will meet tomorrow in New Delhi to take stock of the situation.