May 3, 2017 / 11:27 AM / 4 months ago

Indian champions threaten 'fast unto death' if relegated

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Surprise I-League winners Aizawl FC have threatened to "fast unto death" after finding themselves in the bizarre position of staring at relegation next season despite winning India's top division title on Sunday.

Based in India's northeast state of Mizoram, Aizawl pulled off a massive surprise when they upstaged century-old powerhouses Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to win their first I-League title in only their second season in the top flight.

Of late, India's national league has been steadily losing ground to the franchise-based India Super League (ISL), which is promoted by billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries and Rupert Murdoch's Star India TV.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) plans to retain all eight ISL teams and add a handful from the I-League in a merged, expanded league and Aizawl, a club with a modest budget and a passionate fan following, are unlikely to make the cut.

"Aizawl FC has submitted its formal claim to AIFF to continue in the top league even after proposed merger of the existing top league with ISL," the club said in a statement.

Aizawl would approach the prime minister and the Asian Football Confederation if the club did not get a "positive response" from the AIFF, they said.

"If all these steps fail, the club ... will resort to worldwide protests, sitting demonstrations near AFC/FIFA offices, picketing of AIFF Office, mass hunger strike/fast unto death protests," the club added.

AIFF secretary Kushal Das did not take call from Reuters, but he told the newspaper DNA that Aizawl may have to play in the second division in the new league next season.

"Look, even if Aizawl FC do not play in the country's top league, it doesn't mean that the road ends for them," Das said.

"They can still play in the second division, and continue to grow their club there. We will show even the second division matches live on television, and not just the top league. So, Aizawl FC need not lose heart even if they are not part of the league," Das added.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi, editing by Larry King

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