“Money,” Robert Royte gasped, “you can’t ignore. But you also can’t sell beauty of football.” Royte, a politician-cum-businessman, owns Aizawl FC. On Sunday, the Mizo side became India’s champions but the only thought that’s been haunting Royte since then is his club’s future. Aizawl might not get a chance to defend their I-League title next season. Not because the club won’t be around, but the league itself might cease to exist.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and their commercial partners IMG-Reliance hope to launch a new, ‘unified’ first division league in November, which will replace the I-League. The revamped league will have eight existing Indian Super League franchises and at least three I-League teams.
The AIFF and IMG-R have been openly engaging with Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal — considered to be the big three of Indian football. The other I-League clubs, including Aizawl, would be relegated to the second division. “I woke up today and it was the best feeling – to be the owner of a champion club. But the whole day, the question has been bothering me: What will happen to Aizawl now?” Royte wondered.
It’s a question that has haunted many as the team was paraded through the streets of Aizawl all the way up to the iconic Lammual Stadium in a sea of red-and-white. “How can the reigning champions be relegated to second division? We will not accept it, no chance,” Royte said.He said he will be ‘writing to the AIFF soon’ to find out what the status of I-League will be. “We will be playing in the Asian competitions. How silly will it be if the India’s champions are playing in Asia but back home, they are not allowed to play in the main league? I will write to the AIFF soon,” Royte said.
The AIFF, meanwhile, is non-committal. The federation’s president Praful Patel said they are ‘working towards doing something in a nicer way.’ “Everything is going fine. Just relax. Don’t get into all these issues. Everybody is talking about this one thing (merged league). Is there no other thing in Indian football?” Patel told The Indian Express.
Patel, it is learnt, will meet Mohun Bagan and East Bengal officials in Mumbai on Friday to discuss their inclusion in the new league. Bengaluru have already expressed interest to be a part of the ISL. “I can only hope that the AIFF will include us. It’s a natural thing, no?” Royte asks.
One of the key criteria set out to by the AIFF and IMG-R for a team to be a part of the new league is money. The owners are expected to fork out Rs 15 crore as franchise fee in addition to the crores spent on building the team and everything around it. Aizawl, it is believed, operated on a meager budget of Rs 1.5 crore this season.Patel acknowledged they have shown that teams with less financial resources can compete and win the league but warned that the team will eventually need funds to retain their players and remain at the top.
“Their players will be seen as icons and will be picked up by other clubs. So they will have to spend more to retain some of the better players,” Patel said. “This is the first time they have come so (it was possible on a low budget). But in the long run, they will have to spend more on their own players and rightly so – players need more stable financial future. So they will have to spend more eventually,” he added.
Royte, who owns a construction business, said approaching sponsors was among the first things he did on Monday. “I am looking for sponsors to invest in the team. But having less money does not mean we are sent to second division. That cannot be a reason,” he said(THE INDIAN EXPRESS,2017).