The future of Indian football could be decided this week, when senior official from the AIFF (All India Football Federation) hold a meeting with the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) in Kuala Lumpur. In that meeting, the AIFF is expected to propose the roadmap for Indian football, with the ISL and "Will it be the official primary league of India" question expected to be at the forefront.
The Indian football governing body, earlier this year, in a meeting with the Indian Super League and I-League stakeholders, had mentioned that the ISL would become the main competition of the country and the I-League would be relegated to a league below.
The proposal received mixed reactions, as while Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia praised the plan stating it would give more chances to young footballers, I-League clubs like Mumbai FC, Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar FC called the AIFF's decision unfair.
However, considering the popularity of the ISL, especially when compared to the struggling I-League, there is a good chance that the AIFF will go ahead with their plan to make the former the premier league of the country, even if, according to sources, everything is in the preliminary stage at the moment.
The big decision for the AIFF to take, if they do go ahead with the proposal, is to decide which of the current I-League clubs will be given a straight ticket to the ISL. Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the obvious candidates, owing to their massive following in the country, while a couple of the Goan clubs could come into the picture as well.
Defending I-League champions Bengaluru FC have said they will join the ISL only if the football competition becomes the premier league of the country. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are also yet to take a firm decision.
Reports have suggested that these top three I-League clubs will ply their trade in the Indian Super League from the 2017 edition, but nothing has been confirmed by the clubs or the AIFF as of now.
"We will join the ISL only if it becomes the main league of the country, because that will also give the clubs an opportunity to play in the Asian competitions. We, for one, want to play in the continental championships," a Bengaluru FC official told International Business Times, India.
"At this moment, our full focus is on our AFC Cup 2016 quarterfinals match and the upcoming I-League season. Nowhere are we focusing on the ISL."
East Bengal, too, will only take a decision to play in the cash-rich football competition, after the upcoming season is completed.
"The AIFF gave a proposal to Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and us to join the ISL, which they are planning to make the top flight football league of the country. However, we can only give an update on our plans to join once the sponsorship issues are sorted out. We might come up with a confirmed decision post I-League 2016-17. Mohun Bagan, too, are going a similar route," mentioned an East Bengal official to IBTimes India.
Earlier, a report in IBTimes UK had stated that Bengaluru FC will be one of the teams which will play in the ISL next year. "Bengaluru FC will be one of the two new franchises to be added to the ISL in 2017," a source said. "They are all set to leave the I-League."
However, if the move comes as soon as next year or not, remains to be seen, and much will hinge on if the AIFF can convince the AFC to sanction their plans to turn the ISL into the primary league of India.