The 2017 edition of the I-League has run into further trouble with Dempo Sports Club expected to become the latest to pull out following the All India Football Federation’s decision to change the structure of the domestic footballing scene in the country.
Dempo’s decision to withdraw leaves the league with just seven participants so far in the form of reigning champions Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Shillong Lajong, Mumbai FC, Aizawl FC and DSK Shivajians. Even Aizawl FC was not expected to feature after they were originally relegated following the 2016 edition of the I-League. They were re-instated following the decision of two other Goan clubs, Sporting Club de Goa and Salgaocar, to also withdraw from the I-League.
The three Goan clubs have taken a unanimous stand against the AIFF’s decision to relegate the I-League to a secondary division, with the lucrative Indian Super League expected to be the top domestic league in the country from the 2017 edition onwards. The AIFF has decided to allow existing clubs to join the ISL directly if they fulfilled certain conditions. Three I-League clubs – Bengaluru FC, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan – are expected to join the ISL from 2017 onwards, soon after the conclusion of the I-League.
“Dempo will not be a part of the I-League. A decision has already been taken,” the Times of India quoted a senior official as saying. The official announcement is expected later today.
The relegation of the I-League as the secondary division would mean clubs in it would no longer be able to qualify for continental matches based on their performance in the division. Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC, for example, both participated in the AFC Cup 2016 after winning the I-League and Federation Cup respectively, with Bengaluru FC reaching the finals of the tournament in what was a first for Indian football.
AFC rules make it mandatory for at least nine teams to be present in the league, with the AIFF now having invited bids for fresh teams in the I-League. Clubs like Minerva FC, FC Bardez, Chennai City FC, etc have made bids and an announcement is expected on 11th December in this regard.