The Telegraph
Thursday , January 10 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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AIFF in a catch-22 situation

New Delhi: The confusion over the status of at least three teams in the I-League next season could well become a blessing in disguise for some of the bottom-ranked sides.

At present, three teams — Mohun Bagan, ONGC and Air India — could be out of the 2013-14 I-League and it may force the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to rethink whether to continue with its current policy of relegation.

At the moment, Salgaocar, Lajong FC and United Sikkim FC are struggling to stay out of the relegation zone.

“Nothing has been finalised yet, all these things would be discussed in the executive committee meeting on January 15,” said Sunando Dhar, the CEO of the I-League.

While the banned Bagan’s fate still hangs in balance, ONGC and Air India are likely to be shown the door for not fulfilling the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) licensing criteria.

“Both ONGC and Air India were on notice for the past two seasons. I am afraid they can’t be given any more time,” Dhar said. “Since the I-League will continue to be a 14-team affair and only two teams get promoted from the second division, we have to think of ways to tackle the situation,” he added.

ONGC team manager Bibek Bhowmick said: “We have fulfilled all the criteria except creating a separate entity, for which a public sector undertaking like ONGC needs cabinet approval. Our team is doing well in the I-League… If throwing us out helps the game, then the AIFF is welcome to take such a drastic step.”

Apart from putting a stop on relegation, the AIFF may choose to add new teams to the league.

The problem is neither the AIFF nor its marketing partners have so far managed to rope in sponsors. While two of its major tournaments — I-League and the Federation Cup — are without title sponsors since last season, AIFF’s bid to woo corporate giants to back its academies has fallen flat on its face.