Asian Football Confederation (AFC) worked closely with key stakeholders from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) Clubs, Hero I-League Clubs and other major stakeholders, to propose a new roadmap to facilitate the growth and development of domestic club football in the country.

According to the latest roadmap, which was presented in a joint meeting convened in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the Hero ISL is to be recognised as the top league in India starting from the 2019-2020 season. As per the AFC statement, the Hero ISL champions would also be entitled to a play-off place in the AFC Champions League and the Hero I-League champions would take a place in the AFC Cup in ‘a package that takes into consideration the recommendations of FIFA/AFC report of 2017.’

The key pointers from the proposed roadmap include:

  • In season 2019-20, the Hero ISL will attain the status of the premier league competition in Indian football.
  • As a special compensation to India, the AFC will allow the winning Hero ISL club to represent India in the AFC Champions League play-offs, and the Hero I-League winner will get to play the AFC Cup play-off.
  • Another key recommendation by the AFC is to open a pathway for two Hero I-League clubs’ entry into the Hero ISL by the end of the 2020-21 season, subject to the criteria being fulfilled.
  • In addition, starting with the 2022-23 season, the winner of the Hero I-League will stand a chance to be promoted to the Hero ISL with no participation fee, basis fulfilling sporting merit and the national club licensing criteria to be set out by the AIFF. There will be no relegation in the Hero ISL at this time.
  • In its recommendation for 2024-25, it is agreed to fully implement promotion and relegation into the top league, and the abolition of two parallel leagues.

The proposal is to be presented to the AFC Executive Committee and the AIFF Executive Committee for ratification.

Speaking about the new roadmap, AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said, “Everyone has to put the good of Indian football at the forefront and take the best decisions to develop Indian club football. The AFC will be very much involved to ensure the growth of the game to the next level with the pathway to a single league. Every point of this package – and it is a package – has been thought-out extremely carefully and it is aimed simply at providing the best chance to develop Indian club football. We have informed AIFF that 10-12 teams are not enough for the top league – it must be bigger."

"Everyone has contributed to the development of the Indian club game - Hero ISL, Hero I-League clubs, the AIFF and the AFC – and I am sure that if this roadmap is considered further then Indian football will see the benefits for the game. We are now all working together to deliver the best future," he added.