I -League set to return on 17 January 2015

MUMBAI: The launch of Indian Super League (ISL), made many doubt if the country?s original football league would be able to sustain or not. However, putting fears to rest about the future sustainability of the I?League, it is all set to take off from 17 January 2015 in Bengaluru and will be telecast on Ten Sports.

The official broadcaster, which will air 75 out of the total 110 matches live on the channel, is optimistic about it.  Ten Sports CEO Rajesh Sethi says, ?We have had a long-standing partnership with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the I-League. We have seen this property grow leaps and bounds on our network in terms of audience interest and viewership numbers.?  

He goes on to say that the network values the primary national league on its platform and is looking forward to an exciting new season of the tournament from January 2015 as well as the Federation Cup, which will commence from December 2014.

While some sports experts feel that the ongoing Hero Indian Super League (ISL) would cause sustainability problems for the league, the announcement comes as a welcome move.  Sports columnist Hemant Kenkre says, ?The I-League was introduced in India as a professional football league. While India may have a low ranking in terms of world football standings, foreign leagues like the EPL are popular in the country. The I-League together with the Indian Super League can co-exist together, as a large number of football leagues will provide not just an opportunity for youngsters to play but also give international exposure for the game.?

The decision on the dates for the league, were taken at the recent I-League and Federation Cup committee meeting. It was also decided that the inaugural edition of the AIFF U-15 tournament for I-league clubs will be held in the next calendar year and will consist of 16 teams wherein besides the 10 league clubs, four other academies and two AIFF academies will be a part of the final round.

?With the new clubs in the league giving more importance to infrastructure and grassroots development programmes, and with AIFF?s initiatives for new tournaments in the junior categories, it is definitely going to impact the quality of youngsters in the game in India and I am confident that these initiatives will bear fruit in the Indian teams performances and results in the U-17 World Cup,? adds Sethi.

While coming up with the fixture of the championship, the schedule of school examinations will be kept in mind, and only post discussions with sponsors like Coca Cola and AIFF marketing partners IMG-Reliance, will intimate the clubs. It has also been decided that the registration of players would be done centrally through the state associations and all ID cards would be issued by AIFF. No club would be allowed to register a player after the completion of the 11th round of I-League.

As per the release of players for the AFC U-22 Qualifiers, slated to be held from 23 to 31 March 2015, the clubs have agreed to get back to the governing body over the same. Meanwhile, the second division league would take place in two venues which are to be finalised post inspection by AIFF. The eight participating Clubs are Aizawl FC, Chanmari FC, United Sports Club, Mohammedan Sporting, PIFA Sports, Kenkre Sports, Hindustan FC and Lonestar Kashmir FC. The U-19 I-League will kick-off in the second week of December.

The last season of the championship was won by the newcomer Bangalore FC, which was led by India?s national football team captain, Sunil Chhetri.  When asked for his expectations for the upcoming league he says, ?Expectations remain same in the I-League; we want to defend our title. We want to make it as difficult as possible for the competition. We also have an AFC competition and the Federation Cup so we have our work cut out.?

?The players obviously want to put up performances that the audiences can enjoy,? he concludes.

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