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5 Licensing criteria Indian football clubs need to fulfill for the 2018-19 season

The AIFF recently announced that they have sent the Club Licensing Application Pack to all eligible clubs but what is it all about?

Football clubs in India have been attempting to meet a set of criteria in order to take part in official tournaments since 2013. The procedure, which is known as club licensing, has now become a more familiar term for clubs but it is still an underrated undertaking by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the All India Football Federation (AIFF). 

Club licensing is not merely a checklist wherein all boxes have to be ticked for clubs to exist. In its core, it is a detailed set of best-practice recommendations which were initially optional but now mandatory. 

What it does is to help keep clubs in check and aid the development and benchmarking of football clubs in order to ultimately attain a self-sustainable business model. Given the recent financial issues that have troubled clubs in India, club licensing have become all the more important. 

“We give importance not only to the senior team but also insist that clubs should invest in grassroots, youth development infrastructure which is an investment for the future. Club licensing is the most important thing for the development of a club,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told Goal

He added, “The initial reaction of a lot of clubs when this was introduced in 2013 was ‘why are you putting an additional burden on us’, but now the club licensing is helping them more in reducing the cost and focusing more on the youth development system. The clubs are operating in a much more professional manner, it has benefitted Indian football.”

The Indian Club licensing system is a joint initiative by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the AFC but the former acts as the territorial licensor. The clubs are required to comply with five criteria – each of which has a grade that determines how important it is to fulfil.

The criteria for Indian clubs can be divided into five main groups:

  1. Sporting
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Personnel and Administrative
  4. Legal
  5. Financial

Each criterion under these five groups are graded A, B or C. Grade A are a set of mandatory criteria and failure to meet it will result in a club not getting a licence and hence, being unable to take part in national and AFC competitions.

Non-fulfilment of Grade B can be sanctioned but the clubs may still procure a license. Licensing sanctions range from a caution or a fine to withholding of prize money or even license withdrawal in extreme scenarios.

The AIFF, earlier this week, announced that it has opened up the club licensing system for the 2020-21 season. On July 14, the Club Licensing Application Pack (CLAP) was sent to all eligible clubs and they have been asked to submit a signed copy of the Club Licensing agreement which is a declaration that they are ready to undertake the initiative of procuring a license. 

While the criteria set for the clubs rarely undergo wholesale alterations, there have been minor tweaks over the years. A new addition is a recommendation that clubs should have a women’s team. This is a C criterion (not mandatory) as it stands but could be made mandatory in the near future. 

Dhar also pointed out, “We had introduced a salary cap which was very necessary for Indian football when the club licensing was introduced. At that point, clubs were spending 90-95 per cent of the total income on player salaries, which was very unhealthy. We have reduced it down to 70 per cent now and a lot of clubs have brought it further down to 50 per cent.”

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar

Despite its importance having been made very clear to the clubs, quite a lot of clubs still fail the licensing process.

Chennai City, Jamshedpur FC, Chennaiyin, FC GoaATK and Bengaluru FC were granted both AFC & National License for the 2019-20 season with sanctions. The rest of the clubs including Mohun Bagan and East Bengal had failed to fulfil the required criteria.

The Indian FA is ready to offer technical support to clubs but it is ultimately upon the clubs to take the necessary steps to fulfil all criteria. “It is the clubs’ responsibility to get the licensing done. We have introduced sanctioning also for clubs who have failed the mandatory criteria and the sanctioned amount is substantial so it is better to fulfil the criteria and get the licensing done and not pay the sanction. We try and help the clubs, organize workshops every year, bring in industry experts,” Dhar said. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has made things even more difficult for clubs this year but since it is an unexpected situation, AFC may consider giving them an exception. Of the five criterias mentioned above, the clubs will struggle to fulfill the infrastructure point because the I-League itself might be held at one or two venues. And clubs might find it hard to get their senior team together and train, let alone the youth teams. So, the youth development criteria might also be tough to fulfill this year.

“There is a possibility that there might be exceptions given by AFC if there are situations beyond the control of clubs to fulfil criteria,” the AIFF official said. 

Club licensing is here so that Indian clubs are run well and greater the number of clubs that pass the test, the better for Indian football. 

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