All India Football Federation deny four I-League clubs new licence

Published 29 May 2014 | Authored by: Manali Kulkarni

The Indian sports law update for this week centers around the All India Football Federation (AIFF)1 (India’s governing body for football) deciding not to grant four teams licenses to participate in the upcoming I-League season, which starts in December 2014.2

Before the 2014- 2015 season of the I-League, the AIFF, with the support of IMG Reliance3and Star India4 , will also introduce the Indian Super League (ISL)5 from September to November 2014.

AIFF denies licenses for four teams, barring them from the upcoming I-League

After meeting at the Football House in Delhi last week, the AIFF’s club licensing committee, the First Instance Body, decided to “bar” four clubs from competing in the 2014-2015 I-League6Churchill Brothers7 United Sports Club8 Rangdajied United FC9 , and Mohammedan Sporting10 . The clubs were barred11 due to their failure to meet the AIFF’s Indian Club Licensing Regulations (“Licensing Regulations”)12, which came into effect from the 2013 season. 

Licensing requires that those clubs participating in or seeking to participate in the national club competitions, including the I-League, and all Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competitions must achieve certain standards.  The Licensing Regulations set out 42 mandatory requirements to be fulfilled by teams if they wish to obtain a license.13 The requirements include “legal, administration, sporting, infrastructure and finance” criteria that all clubs are required to meet.14 The license is required to compete under “the AIFF’s Indian Club Licensing System15, and is reviewed annually based on a team’s overall performance.

Churchill Brothers and United SC had “financial problems last season, failing to pay their players on time,” and did not provide completed audit statements, which constitutes a breach of paragraphs F.01 A and F.03 under section 10.3.1 of the Licensing Regulations. The third team, Randajied United, submitted its papers for licensing regulations three days late, which is a breach of Step 3 of Section 5.3 of the Licensing Regulations. Mohammedan Sporting, who were already barred for the 2013-2014 season and who were planning to rejoin the Second Division I-League, will now not be allowed to compete at all, even in the Second Division.16

During last year’s 2013-2014 I-League season, only Pune FC 17 fulfilled all the licensing criteria and all other teams were given a “once in a lifetime one-year exemption.18 This year, the clubs have argued that the AIFF’s “tough posturing” makes it impossible for them to “complete the calendar”, although ten teams have been able to meet it and approved to play in the upcoming season.19

Of the approved teams, Mumbai FC20  and Shillong Lajong21 , while meeting the infrastructure criteria for a National Licence (see Section 7 “Infrastructure Criteria”), failed to comply with the additional criteria of the AFC Stadia Regulations22, which for streamlining purposes have been integrated into the Licensing Regulations (see paragrapgh 7.1).”  Accordingly, the two clubs have been granted a National Licence, approving their participation in national competitions, but not an AFC certificate for an AFC A Class Stadium, meaning they cannot now participate in the AFC competitions23 such as the AFC Cup or the AFC Champions League playoffs, even if they win the I-League and Federation Cup this season.24 AIFF's Club Licensing Manager, Roma Khanna, stated, “Both these clubs [Mumbai and Shillong] do not have AFC A-class Stadium, but were fully compliant of the infrastructure requirement for the National License.25  The remaining teams all secured appropriate infrastructure for the AFC A-class stadium, and were granted both a National License and an AFC Certificate.   

With only ten teams being granted licenses for the upcoming I-League season, the AIFF faced questions on whether having fewer licensed teams made organizing both the I-League and ISL more manageable for the AIFF. Sunando Dhar, I-League Chief Executive officer, has publicly explained that the elimination of the previously mentioned four teams from the I-League is not related to the start of the ISL later this year.26 Dhar additionally commented that the four barred teams can return to the I-League’s 2015-2016 season with I-League’s second division, only if all the required criteria for a license are fulfilled when the annual license review starts for the 2015-2016 season.27

Dhar also stated that the barred teams “can appeal the decision,” the reasons for which were explained to them in a “detailed letter” from the AIFF sent last Thursday.28 Section E under Article 5.3 of the AIFF Indian Club Licensing Regulations29  outlines the appeals process for club licensing decisions, and states that: 

The license applicant lodges an appeal (The Licensing Manager can also appeal a first instance decision.). Appeals against club licensing decisions must be sent by registered post to the AIFF Club Licensing Department within Seven business days of when the first instance decision was notified to the license applicant. The Club Licensing Appeals Body is notified and the meeting date is set by agreement. The cost of an appeal is 100,000 INR (1010 GBP). If the decision was in the License Applicant's favor the money will be refunded.” 

Churchill Brothers, who “won the I-League title in 2008-09 and 2012-13 seasons, and are also the reigning Federation Cup30 champions” and who competed in the AFC cup31 are already planning their appeal,32 arguing that the licensing inspection was not “done fairly” as the report stated incorrect facts about Churchill having one youth development team, when it had four teams, meeting the AIFF requirement.  They also claims that AIFF “refused” to look at their papers regarding the other counts for rejecting the license. 

However, Dhar’s statements on Churchill expressed that they “failed [the Licensing Regulations] on several counts…[including] finance, youth development and personnel.33  Failing of financial criteria was one of the main reasons why the AIFF did not grant them a license. Churchill has yet to meet 13 of the 42 mandatory A criteria, and the AIFF does not grant licenses even when one of the criteria is not fulfilled, so it will be interesting to see how Churchill frame their appeal.  The appeals committee plans to set its “meeting date” in the “first week of June” for this case.34

Similarly, Rangdajied United’s general manager, A Shullai, confirmed that Rangdajied will also be appealing AIFF’s decision and is “confident that the decision can be overturned.35

All appeals relating to AIFF’s licensing decisions for the 2014-2015 season must be filed by Friday, May 30, 2014.36

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About the Author

Manali Kulkarni

Manali Kulkarni

Manali is the COO at LawInSport and executive contributor of the editorial board for LawInSport. She holds an LLM in Sports Law from Nottingham Law School (Nottingham Trent University).

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