Bengaluru: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel was one of the dignitaries who graced the JSW Group’s unveiling of Bengaluru FC on Saturday.
Speaking shortly afterwards, Patel was optimistic about the future of the I-League, and claimed that if the right investments were made, healthy returns would be received in the future. He stated, “I-League is the premier football tournament of our country. It’s time we infuse new energy and new enthusiasm into it. Indian football was in the chicken and egg situation. JSW have taken up a huge responsibility of building the club, right infrastructure and youth academy. Only after they agreed to all these criteria, we gave them the Bangalore franchise."
"If you invest in the game, you will get returns in the future. You cannot have a half hearted effort. Despite the efforts of AIFF, we have reached nowhere. This is your own team and without the support of the fans the club will not succeed. It is true that all old clubs did a lot to improve football but it’s time to infuse new energy,” he added.
He also took time out to warn the existing clubs, that they would have to steer towards professionalism and improving local football infrastructure, if they are to stay in the league in the future, mentioning that other corporate were ready to pitch in with the finance needed to run a club in the correct manner.
"If some teams are not financially equipped to stay put in the I-League and do not fulfill the AFC club licensing criteria, in the next coming years they will not sustain and will have to leave. And it’s not like others are not willing to invest in the game. We have Queens Park Rangers who are extremely keen on setting up a team from Chennai next year and we also have a group of NRI`s that want to build a team from Kerala."
"The next 3-5 years will be the most challenging for Indian football as we are going through major changes. In the next 5 years, all the clubs should have FIFA approved stadiums. If any club does not fulfill that, they will most certainly leave. We do not have good infrastructure like in cricket to attract the viewers. If you see IPL matches, the viewership is excellent because of the comfortable experience in the stadiums for the fans. We want to do that," Patel continued.
The AIFF President also revealed that there would be changes in the broadcasting schedule of I-League matches next year, with kick-off times being made more viewer friendly. He revealed, "Its a misnomer that I-League does not have sponsors. We have a tie up with IMG-Reliance and we are getting money from them. It’s upto them to sell the league. This year 50% of the I-League matches will be shown LIVE on Ten Sports and Ten Action. You cannot show matches at 3 PM and expect people to watch. Who will watch? So the timings will be rescheduled.”
Patel also claimed that all these efforts were being taken to improve the league, and that the AIFF would not be demotivated or change its mind, due to any criticism that comes its way, for making these changes.
"We are moving out of our comfort zone. And whenever we do that, skepticism and criticism arises. Pushing through such obstacles is the main challenge," he concluded.