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AIFF-AFC roadmap: ISL replaces I-League as top division and more

The Indian Super League (ISL) as the top division of Indian football from the 2019-20 season, an expanded ISL season from 2021-22, promotion to the ISL for the I-League champions from the following season, and promotion and relegation in the ISL from 2024-25.

These are the highlights of the roadmap for Indian football that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) suggested to stakeholders of Indian football -- team owners of ISL and I-League clubs, and their marketing partners Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) -- at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

What happens to the I-League?

The I-League, which had been India's top division for the last 23 years, will no longer be the top football division next season onwards, but teams from the league will continue to play in continental competition.

The AFC Champions League slot had been reserved for the I-League winners till 2018-19, with Chennai City FC the latest team that will represent India in Asia's top tier in early 2020, while the AFC Cup slot had been kept initially for the winners of the Federation Cup knock-out tournament.

That slot was given to the ISL champions in 2017-18, and the I-League champions will be eligible to qualify for the AFC Cup from the 2019-20 season.

How does this impact the coming season?

ESPN understands that the upcoming 2019-20 season, which starts with the ISL kicking off on October 20, will proceed as planned, without any promotion and relegation for the ISL teams. AIFF had, earlier this year, pushed for ISL's elevation to the top division of the country, thus giving the league winners the chance to represent India at the AFC Champions League playoffs from the following season.

The AIFF-AFC proposal cites the end of the 2020-21 season as one where two clubs from the I-League will be "offered entry" into the ISL, thus making it a 12-team competition for the first time since inception in 2014. When two clubs join the ISL, there will be a discussion on the future format of the league, with the name of the league, and the number of teams decided on. These changes have been proposed for implementation from 2024-25.

When do I-League teams earn their right to play in the ISL?

The 2022-23 season will see the I-League winners promoted to the ISL for the first time, and while this will happen with no entry fee -- all ISL franchises, including recent entrants Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC, have had to shell out INR 15 crore (approx. $2.1 million) per year -- the new entrants will also get no share of central revenue as per the proposed roadmap.

What else are they proposing?

AIFF have also committed to introducing promotion and relegation in the ISL by the 2024-25 season, and will effectively have only one league and one knock-out competition for all clubs by that year.

This will be the last year of Reliance Industries Limited subsidiary FSDL's 15-year contract that they had signed with the AIFF as their principal marketing partners in 2010.

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