New Delhi: India's top football clubs are up in arms against the national federation over moves to stage a cash-rich franchise-based tournament inspired by cricket's popular Indian Premier League early next year.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its commercial partner, IMG-Reliance, plan to hold the eight-city tournament in January-March featuring as-yet-unnamed international and local stars.
But the clubs have declined to release their players for the tournament, which they say will threaten their existence and ruin the national I-League domestic competition.
"We don't think the new league will be beneficial to Indian football," said Raj Gomes, who heads the I-League Professional Football Clubs Association. "How can we allow players to play for another club in the middle of the season?"
Valanka Alemao, the chief executive officer of popular Goa-based club Churchill Brothers, also vigorously opposed the proposed tournament.
"I do not understand why the AIFF wants to hold a new league," Alemao said. "This new entity will eventually supersede the I-League and cause the slow death of existing clubs.
"The common goal should be to improve Indian football. How does it help if you get some retired or semi-retired players to grab a few eyeballs for a minute?
"It will benefit everyone if the AIFF tries to improve the I-League, instead of starting another tournament," she said.
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said the clubs' fears were unfounded and he remained confident he would be able to persuade them to come on board.
"I am talking to the clubs and we should be able to resolve this matter quickly," said Das.
"We are all for the betterment of football and IMG-Reliance is definitely here for the betterment of football. If there was no hope for Indian football they would not be here.
"The I-League has been on for more than 10 years and it has still not caught the attention of viewers and sponsors. The new league has the potential to raise the commercial value of Indian football."
India are currently ranked a lowly 146th in the world, but the sport's popularity in the cricket-mad nation has grown due to live television coverage of matches played around the globe.
Last year, football officials in West Bengal state had announced plans for a similar franchised-based league that would feature semi-retired stars like Argentina's Hernan Crespo and Fabio Cannavaro of Italy playing alongside district-level players.
But the tournament was not held, reportedly due to lack of proper infrastructure in the state and lack of interest shown by the AIFF.