Soccer

Owners, AIFF to meet over new Indian league

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NEW DELHI (AP)

Owners of India's leading clubs are expected to meet national football administrators next week to discuss a new franchise-based competition that could overshadow the existing I-League.

The All India Football Federation, which runs the I-League, is considering plans for a franchised version that would be played in parallel with the current league. Next week's meeting with clubs is an opportunity to set out how this would be done.

''We'd like to know how such a league will benefit Indian football and the I-League clubs,'' Pune FC owner Nandan Piramal said in a statement. ''We're going into this meeting with an open mind and without any preconceived notions.''

Piramal said any new competition or format would require negotiations between club owners, the AIFF and sponsors IMG-Reliance, who signed a $140 million deal in 2010 for the game's national marketing rights.

''Players have begun to understand the importance of the I-League. They know how key it is to play football throughout the season to help their careers,'' Piramal added.

Valanka Alemao, CEO of I-League club Churchill Brothers, was even less enthusiastic about the proposed new competition.

''You need to appreciate the fact that till date Indian football is alive because of the toil and sacrifice for decades of the existing clubs,'' Alemao said. ''The serious challenge is how to improve the game and develop the I-league which is the bedrock of Indian football.''

Plans for a similar franchise-based league that was to feature the likes of former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo and Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro failed to materialize earlier this year.

A five-team tournament was announced with much fanfare by the Indian Football Association, a regional body covering the state of West Bengal, but it failed to make progress after a players' auction in January last year.

India is ranked 146th in the world game, but clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich have been looking to tap into their huge fan bases in this country of 1.2 billion people.

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