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With the future of the I-League, Indias premier football league, filled with uncertainty, Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj feels that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has not done enough for the league and the clubs who are a part of the set-up. In fact, he is also of the opinion that if this continues, rather than progressing, Indian football will also die a natural death.
Speaking to IANS, Bajaj said he was disappointed how even after writing to the AIFF President Praful Patel twice -- asking for his time to discuss the future of the I-League -- the teams are yet to hear from him.
"He is not even giving us time to meet him. Initially five clubs and then eight clubs, including Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, got together and wrote to the president.
"I think East Bengal and Mohun Bagan officials should say that you neither have any respect for us, nor have the time to meet us, then why do you think, we should go and join you," he said.
Bajaj feels that if the Indian Super League (ISL) is made the top league of the country, then the process of relegation and promotion must be looked at immediately as sports cannot be compromised for the sake of monetary gains.
"See the point is, football is always decided on merits, as simple as that. The better team should prevail. And even if they want one league, there should be promotion and relegation.
"We are still ok with that because we have a chance. Is it fair to tell us that we cannot be the part of the top league and there will be no promotion and relegation?," he asked.
"A team can be relegated from second division to third division. But you can never be promoted to the top division is total mockery of sports," Bajaj exclaimed.
He went on to explain that if Chennai City FC becomes the I-League champion this year, they will be representing India in the Asian Championship next year, but they will be playing in the second division in India as they cannot afford to pay the fee required to be a part of division one.
This according to Bajaj is nothing short of sad.
"So, at the end of the day they are trying to say that the top league of the country will not be decided by merit but be decided by who has more money. If you have fifteen crore you can play. But even if you are good enough and you don't have that fifteen crore you can't play.
"And remember this fifteen crore is not going to go to Federation but to a private company," Bajaj said.
"AIFF is sold out. AIFF has sold its soul, sold Indian football, sold everything for 70 crores-a-year. They had a deal with Ten Sports and Zee Sports earlier.
"They were giving 50 crores a year just for marketing rights of I-League. And just for 20 crores more they have actually done the whole thing," he rued.
When asked about where Indian football is headed from here, he made his apprehensions clear. "Actually it is going from bad to worse. ISL clubs are also in trouble, Mumbai is in problem, Kerala Blasters have not paid salaries for the last four months. North-East is also facing problems for the last three years.
"So, if they kill I-League and these ISL clubs are shut down, that means you basically killed Indian football," Bajaj said.
"They are talking about FSDL, FSDL means Football Sports Development Limited. But this way are they only trying to develop what they own? They will get money from that.
"Star Sports also has a stake in ISL, they are also helping. If I-League does well then Star loses money."
Finally as a note of caution Bajaj mentioned that he will go to court if needed even if the big clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan stay away.
"If they actually announce that there is going to be one league and we will not be part of it, I will go to Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). We will definitely not leave it here," he concluded.
(Jagannath Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)