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All India Football Federation (AIFF) general secretary Kushal Das has finally decided to break his silence on the raging controversy that has hit the federation after seven I-League clubs decided to "boycott" the Super Cup last month.
Expressing his deep disappointment over the attitude of the clubs, Das said he was pained to see how certain clubs in the I-League were maligning the federation almost on a daily basis.
Speaking to IANS, Das made it clear that the aggressive stance taken by the I-League clubs would only complicate matters.
"At times, there are clubs, who, on a regular basis, bring the federation to disrepute by saying all kinds of things. That is something not acceptable. No federation in the world would tolerate this kind of things.
"The clubs are always free to give their opinion, but cannot malign the parent body. Statements like the AIFF is a sold out body and partial is absolutely not acceptable and strictest measures have to be taken," Das added.
I-League clubs had refused to play the Super Cup in Bhubaneswar in March demanding an immediate meeting with AIFF president Praful Patel to decide the future roadmap of Indian football. However, the clubs did not return to the field even after Patel assured them of a meeting in April. Some clubs alleged the federation was working against their interest.
The matter has now been referred to the disciplinary committee, who will meet in Delhi on April 27 and 28 to decide on the issue.
Das said the clubs were trying to create an issue that simply does not exist. "Instead of coming together to discuss the matter with the federation and our marketing partners, they (the clubs) have almost tried to rebel against the federation. That won't help. They wanted to meet the president and the president always said he would meet them. In fact, he was busy and was travelling. He sent a communication in this effect. He said he would meet them between April 10 and 15. Now he is upset that the clubs still rebelled against the whole thing and did not play the Super Cup. Not playing football is not a solution. That's absurd.
"By creating negativity, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Indian football has a long way to go and all stakeholders will have to work together to take it forward. Clubs have to be patient," said Das, who was formerly with the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Das was convinced the model adopted by the AIFF that would have a top league as ISL followed by the next tier, which could be the I-League or League One, is the best possible way to take Indian football forward both in terms of quality and marketability.
"There has to be a top league, followed by the next tier. There is no truth in some I-League clubs saying that they are being "killed". While all the national team players are playing in ISL, I-League clubs are also developing players, the emergence of Jobby Justin and (Michael) Soosairai are prime examples. They have now moved to ISL. The clubs have the scope to earn revenue by developing these players. In four-five years' time, there could be relegation/promotion once the contractual obligations (in ISL) are over," he said.
The AIFF general secretary felt starting the relegation/promotion system immediately would not be feasible since Indian football is still not financially sustainable.
"We do not have a system right now where when a team is relegated, they could be protected like the parachute payment, which is there in major European leagues. In India, the clubs have sponsorship, they have certain amount of investment, but if they are relegated, many of the sponsors may move away. We have to reach that stage before we introduce changes," he said.