File photo before a match involving AIFF regional academies. (AIFF Image)
IMG-Reliance are all set to launch an IPL-style football tournament involving city-based teams run by corporate franchises to popularise and promote the game throughout India - from grassroots to the professional level. But it faces many hardships before coming to fruition.
The joint venture, which has the backing of All Indian Football Federation (AIFF), was agreed upon in December 2012, but with the I-League in place and well established in the Indian football calendar, what purpose another league on almost similar lines will serve is slightly questionable. The teams are expected to be up for grabs through a bidding process by August. However, the number of teams and cities for which bids will be placed is yet to be decided.
Each of the eight teams in the new league is expected to have a squad of 25 players, including half a dozen foreign recruits, and the tournament officials are already working overtime to rope in just-retired international stars.
IMG-Reliance are keen to bring big names for the tournament. The likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen and Raul Gonzalez are some of the names doing the rounds. Beckham, Henry and Raul are already working closely with IMG in different projects to promote the game.
IMG's senior vice-president (football), Jefferson Slack, is in talks with international players to convince them to play in the league. "IMG have started targeting some of the just-retired international stars to play in the tournament. According to the joint venture between Reliance and IMG, the sports management group has to get some international stars for the league," the official said.
With corporate money pumped in, hiring international stars may not be as much of a problem. It's the top Indian players who could prove to be a difficult catch due to their contracts and/or commitments to I-League clubs they play for.
Various bodies involved in Indian football, including the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association (IPFCA) - the union of I-League clubs, are opposing the idea mooted by IMG-Reliance combine. They have, in fact, decided to not release I-League players for the franchise-based tournament.
IPFCA held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss a range of issues and said that the clubs will neither release nor sign any player who has a contract with IMG-Reliance. "We have unanimously decided that no club will release players on loan or otherwise for the IMG-Reliance tournament and will also not take any IMG-Reliance-contracted players on loan or otherwise," IPFCA president Raj Gomes told IANS.
Gomes, who is also the secretary general of Salgaocar, said that the members have also proposed a similar tournament on the lines of the IMG-R meet. "Members have proposed to organise a tournament during the three-month break during which IMG-Reliance will conduct their tournament," he said.
Besides that, there are other obstacles in way of the new league.
The AIFF is yet to decide on the players' transfer and club registration rules and may have to ring in some changes in its constitution for the tournament. The AIFF wants all the eight clubs to be centrally registered but according to current rules, clubs can only be registered with state associations. IMG-Reliance will also have to take players on loan from the I-League clubs for two months and players transfer rules also have to be amended, but the IPFCA has already announced that they won't be releasing and/or loaning any players.
Fair to conclude, the new league coming to fruition is still a far-fetched dreams with many obstacles en route.