Even as the I-League season heads towards a close finish -- with three teams still in contention for the 2018-19 title -- eight of 11 clubs have written to All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel requesting a meeting on February 20 to "seek answers" regarding the league's future.
The letter -- bearing the names of top office-bearers of Aizawl FC, Chennai City, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala, reigning champions Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan, NEROCA and East Bengal -- says the teams also wish to discuss potential relegation to the second division in Indian football, with the Indian Super League (ISL) "all set to be branded the top league of the country." The teams have also sought answers on what they call the "interference" of AIFF's marketing partners Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) in decision-making in Indian football.
The only three clubs not to have added their names to the letter are debutants Real Kashmir, Shillong Lajong (who are owned by AIFF vice-president Larsing Ming Sawyan) and Indian Arrows, who are the AIFF's developmental squad.
ESPN reached out to AIFF officials for a confirmation on whether they have received this letter and what action they wish to take in response, but have yet to receive a comment. This letter comes close on the heels of I-League CEO Sunando Dhar's recent comments about the current season possibly being the last edition of the league, which still identifies as Indian's top division and supplies the entrant for the AFC Champions League playoff. "It is looking that way, and unless something happens in the intervening months, we are looking at the last edition of the I-League," The Navhind Times quoted him saying a week ago.
The I-League clubs' letter questions the logic of what has been spoken of as a "merger" of the ISL and the I-League, saying that all I-League teams stand for a "unified league...with maximum number of teams and with proper structure of relegation and promotion." They also claim they are ready to accept providing ISL clubs immunity from relegation, adding that "there should not be any forceful relegation of I-League teams to the second division due to restructuring of leagues."
The clubs have also spoken about FSDL's "running and controlling the functions and decisions of AIFF", pointing to how they have appointed several FSDL members into the AIFF committees. They have also raised concerns over the recent reduction in televised and streamed games of the I-League, and also asked AIFF to make public an AFC-backed report from last May that had recommended a unified league with promotion and relegation to replace the existing two leagues.