Ever since IMG-Reliance, marketing partners of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF), announced its plans to kick start the Indian Super League (ISL) in association with Star TV, the Indian media is awash with flashy stories on the other wise humble Indian football. Newspapers started running dramatic narratives on how the 10-week mega-meet could bring about a dramatic change in Indian football.
Every football official worth his salt in India jumped on the bandwagon to vouch that the ISL would prove to be the country’s ladder to put India up on the global football map.
AIFF president Praful Patel, who has quite a few U-turns under his belt, said, after the names of the franchises were announced “This day will go down in history as a special day for Indian football as eight high-profile celebrities and corporates are being introduced into the sport through the Indian Super League. With IMG-Reliance and Star TV providing the perfect foundation, the League has become an unstoppable force which would change Indian football.” AIFF general secretary Kushal Das, too, pitched in, stating: “I have always believed Indian football needs an innovative and experimental format like the Indian Super League to bring fans back to the stadiums. With the kind of owners and organisers that we have for the ISL, we have the perfect recipe to hold a successful professional tournament.”
Even if we have full faith in Patel and Das, some questions that might be uncomfortable for the duo, refuse to be muted. These queries need to be addressed promptly so as to have the faith of Indian football fans intact and ensure that what they view is being run with the highest level of integrity, failing which there are reasons to fear that the ISL, within no time, could turn out to be the hub of nefarious activities. There could be betting and match fixing and men at the top could unwillingly get trapped in it. We are sure that those who run the game in India would do their best to nail the “bad guys”.We are sure the ISL wants to cut a wide birth from where the IPL has been. So, please allow us to ask a few questions:
Going back in time, frankly, the bidding process did not seem to have been carried out in the best and the most transparent way possible. It was informed that only a selective set of people in the AIFF had knowledge about the entire bidding process. And to top that, to everyone’s surprise, two vice-presidents of the federation bagged franchise rights. Unlike the BCCI,AIFF is not an autonomous body but is run by the Ministry of youth affairs and Sports (MYAS) and therefore comes under the ambit of Right to Information Act. Since the AIFF’s permission was necessary for the entire operation to launch the ISL, would it be unfair to expect the entire bid process should be found in public domain and available to view? The problem is that nothing is clear about the financial bid. It was done in complete secrecy and in a hush-hush manner. No media was told the exact amount of each franchise bid. Although there are figures present, but there is nothing official about it. This ambiguity, it seems, was being created intentionally which casts shadow of doubt over the event.
What was the need to maintain such secrecy? Why couldn’t accurate figures be quoted officially?
Was there any apprehension in quoting the figures? Is it true that the financial bids were not opened in front of all the bidders?
Why weren’t the names of the panelists, who decided the final names, revealed?
Why companies with priors in 2G scam were not discouraged from bagging franchise rights?
Why companies with debts of thousands of crores with nationalised banks were allowed to come?
Why no official media briefing was held after such a big event?
Was anyone up there not ready to face a few uncomfortable questions?
Finally, how come the names of all the successful bidders found their way to the media almost 48 hours before the bids were officially announced?
A few more questions spring to my mind, especially when one of the AIFF vice-presidents, on condition of anonymity, said: “We are not getting all the financial papers from IMG-Reliance.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Conflict of interest is a no-no in any business/sports-related matter, while the ISL is flooded with it, putting serious doubts in the mind of an Indian football fan about the entire system. Is it a coincidence or have the organisers preferred to remain silent and let things go their way in the quietest of ways possible. The Pune franchise went to Dewan Housing. The company is a long-time sponsor of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians, owned by Reliance, the promoters of the ISL. We are confident the company was not rewarded for their loyalty to Mumbai Indians, but won the bid through the right process. But would not it have been nice had the entire bidding process happen through the public domain?The same is applicable for Videocon, proud winners of Goa Franchise. They, too, are one of the long-term sponsors of Mumbai Indians.Like IMG-Reliance, the Star TV, too, have their allies among the franchises. Den Network has been Star TV’s partners for around five years now.
IS IT ALL IN THE FAMILY?
From our reliable source, we have learnt a few things which we would like to be confirmed from the horse’s mouth. Is one of the owners of the Goa franchise married into the Ambani family? And is one of the owners of the Kolkata franchise the father-in-law of Praful Patel’s daughter? Well, for matter of fact, we truly believe in the AIFF and its partners IMG-Reliance and are sure that these issues would be addressed sooner rather than later.
Getting out of these and going into more relevant issues, let us look at its popularity. Tthe league, that was set to redefine stadium attendance in Indian football games and managed to break a few records in the first season, is now struggling hard to attract viewers. Barring those in Guwahati and Kerala, most of the football stadiums are witnessing below-average attendances.
A possible reason for the same could be lack of quality. Though the clubs have shifted from big-named marquees to fitter, better quality marquees, the levels are still down. Moreover, with the teams adopting a more defensive style of play and with matches slated every three to four days for a team, it is imminent that the flair goes out of the game, making it less attractive for viewers.
Getting the realist out and the optimist in, we all still hope the ISL is here to stay, will become a longer, main league, and turn things around for Indian football; a dream all of us – Indian football fans – have seen.