All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel on Tuesday presided over the first of its kind AIFF organised Open House Meeting for induction of two new I-League Clubs.
He was extremely confident that a minimum of two corporate-backed clubs will help raise the standard of the I-League significantly.
"Take it from me; this initiative will help all existing clubs find partners. Clubs will fulfill the Club Licensing Criteria which is very essential for development infrastructure and youth development. Football is very popular in India. It's just that we do not have a proper infrastructure and setup," said Patel while addressing the 30 interested corporate parties present at the Football House.
He further added: "For example, every English Premier League club has a ground, which they call their home ground. Here no club has that. In Kolkata four teams use the same ground."
"Now with two new clubs backed by corporate bodies coming up, these issues are expected be sorted out as they will be under the Club Licensing Criteria. All the other existing clubs will follow suit and in the process we can dream of a better League and perhaps one day compare with the best Leagues in the world."
The bidding process will take place from Mar 30 till May 10 when the announcement of the successful bidders will be done.
AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said, "The AIFF is doing this keeping in mind the development of football infrastructure and youth development."
Das added, "It is not a profit making exercise. That the clubs will meet the AFC Club Licensing Criteria which states that some portion of the budget should go to Grassroot Development and building Academies is actually a step forward towards development of infrastructure."
Das also gave a brief overview of the structure and activities of the AIFF including the current focus in grassroot and youth Development.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, explaining the process of bidding and rules and regulations to be met, stressed on the fact that roadmap for the future is looking bright from the turnout.
Dhar said, "I see a full house inside the Conference room. Just goes to show that we are on the right direction. We want to touch new bases in our objective of a pan Indian I-League. So we are looking at investors investing in bases which don't have I-League team but amount of interest in football is huge."
"For example Kerala. So we are restricting the two new clubs from setting up a base in Kolkata and Goa. It is just to create that pan India feel which is very important."
Abhijit Sarkar, Head- Corporate Communications of Sahara and one of the potential investors was all praise about the initiative.
"This is an excellent initiative from AIFF. Football needed this to grow and I am glad that it is finally happening. There is market in India for the sport which is so popular here," Sarkar said.
Prakash Shah, Director of Mumbai Tigers (formerly known as Dodsal FC) added that the importance of infrastructure is paramount and the fact that it is being stressed here is heartening.
"Without Grassroots and proper infrastructure, football cannot develop. Look at top leagues across Europe. I totally agree with Patel that this can change the outlook of clubs in India. You need to be professional and invest judiciously."
Among the major investors who attended the meet were Sajjan Jindal, Chairman of JSW and the ex-chairman of the I-League Committee, and Shirish Kulkarni, Director of DSK Shivajians. Representatives from GMR and Hero Motors were also present.
Praful Patel signed off by saying that a similar meeting will take place in Dubai by the end of this month to attract foreign investors from Gulf and Europe.
(Image Courtesy: AIFF Media)