- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

NEW DELHI (AP) - While Indian football’s I-League offered fans a thrilling end to its season, there are calls for it to lift its standards if it is to hold its own against the new glitzy Indian Super League tournament and unlock the potential of a market once described by FIFA chief Sepp Blatter as a “sleeping giant.”

The fight for the I-League title went down to the last round as Kolkata club Mohun Bagan clinched the championship with a 1-1 draw against Bengaluru FC on Sunday, which needed a win to retain the title. At the other end of the table, several relegation battles were settled over a gripping last weekend.

India midfielder Renedy Singh told The Associated Press that while competition in the I-League made for an interesting tournament, “a lot is still needed for it to stand on its own.”

Renedy, who plays for the Kerala Blasters in the ISL, said the I-League needs to be packaged better if it’s to hold its own after the advent of the ISL, which saw the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet and Luis Garcia turn out in its inaugural edition last year, with the next season starting Oct. 3.

“Everyone saw the hype generated by the ISL last year. It can do better (than the I-League) for both players as well as for TV audiences,” he said. “The same players look better when they play in the ISL, so the marketing and packaging of the I-League has to improve.”

Renedy’s contention was best illustrated by the turnout at, the home venue for champion Dempo during the I-League.

Last year’s ISL saw crowds throng Goa’s Fartoda Stadium for FC Goa, but they failed to turn out in support for three-time I-League Dempo, which was relegated to the second division. Dempo is now preparing for the side to take a backseat to Goa FC.

“We will slash our salary budgets because we won’t be recruiting foreign players or some of the top Indians,” Dempo owner Shrinivas Dempo said after the club’s last match on Saturday. “We would now like to become a feeder club for FC Goa as well as other ISL teams.”

Sukhvinder Singh managing director of sports management Libero Sports, says I-League is important because its clubs are generally several decades old, while the ISL is a new entity.

“Let’s not forget that these (I-League) clubs are old and have their own fan bases,” Sukhvinder said. “I’d put the I-League and ISL in different categories and I feel the I-League can make itself a well-rounded competition. The league and the clubs only need to step up.”

Sukhvinder says both leagues need to learn from each other.

“The ISL can probably reach out more at the grassroots level to have a dedicated fan following over the years, while the I-League needs to create more hype around and market itself like the ISL,” he explained.

India, which is 147th in FIFA world rankings and has struggled to find ways of improving its standards, has attracted increasing private sponsorship in recent years.

However, administration has been a problem and is often blamed for the game’s decline since the 1970s. India had strong teams in the 1950s and 1960s, finishing fourth at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and twice winning the Asian Games gold medal.

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