Football: India soccer chiefs approve IPL-style league despite fierce opposition from clubs

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's football chiefs on Thursday backed a proposal to hold a new tournament inspired by cricket's popular Indian Premier League (IPL), despite fierce opposition from the country's top clubs.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) gave the green signal to its commercial partners, IMG-Reliance, to hold the franchise-based tournament early next year featuring as-yet-unnamed international and local stars.

AIFF president Praful Patel said his federation was satisfied by a detailed presentation made by IMG-Reliance on Thursday and predicted the new tournament would give Indian football a boost.

"Through this tournament we are looking to popularise Indian football and take the game to the masses," Patel told reporters. "It will have players from around the world."

Top Indian clubs have declined to release their players for the January-March tournament, saying it will threaten their existence and ruin the national I-League domestic competition.

Said Valanka Alemao, the CEO of popular Goa-based club Churchill Brothers: "This new entity will eventually supersede the I-League and cause the slow death of existing clubs. How does it help if you get some retired or semi-retired players to play?"

Indian captain Sunil Chhetri admitted on Thursday that fellow players were sceptical about the proposed tournament due to the rift between the AIFF and clubs.

"The players are sceptical because they don't know where they stand," Chhetri said. "They are not sure whether to join a club or sign up with the new tournament."

India are currently ranked a lowly 146th in the world, but the sport's popularity in the cricket-mad nation has grown due to live television coverage of football matches played around the globe.

The IPL is a money-spinning Twenty20 annual competition in which top stars from around the world play for rich team owners for huge fees.

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