Air India, ONGC face I-League expulsion

Close on the heels of Mohun Bagan's suspension, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is likely to crack the whip on two other I League teams Air India and ONGC. The Mumbai-based clubs face expulsion from next season's I-League since they don't seem to be in a position to follow a very important Asian Football Confederation (AFC) guideline before the December 31 deadline.

With AFC wanting every I League club to be an independent and private legal entity, Air India and ONGC, because of their Public Sector Unit status, find themselves in a spot. Explaining the issue Air India sports secretary Dilip Pinge said, "In an effort to follow the guideline we approached the Registrar of Companies earlier this year. But in the final stages, we were informed that since Air India is a PSU, permission from the Parliament was necessary to make the club a separate private entity," he said. Officials from ONGC were not reachable for comment.

But AIFF doesn't seem to be in a mood to buy that argument. "A final warning has already been sent to the two clubs. This is not the first time they have missed the deadline. The AFC has categorically told us that the erring clubs cannot be a part of a professional league," the official said.

Meanwhile, Pinge says they will ask AIFF for yet another extension and if denied they will seek the Sports Ministry's intervention. "We have a rich history of producing many players who have represented India. If AIFF imposes a ban on us, we will request the sports ministry to intervene and also help us in speeding up the privatisation process," Pinge said.

League in trouble

Bagan's suspension has already reduced the I-League to a 13-team tournament. If the AIFF does expels Air India and ONGC, the league strength will be further depleted. To maintain the 14-team format for the next edition, the AIFF has to decide whether to make changes to the relegation system. "We will take a final call on these issues during the executive committee meeting in January," the federation official informed. At present, the bottom two teams on the table are demoted to I-League 2 while the top two teams from the second division take their place in the top flight.

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