I-League: Real Kashmir-Minerva fixture at heart of controversy

"Forfeiting and giving three points to the other team is not fair play," Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh said.

Minerva FC and Real Kashmir FC are concerned with the match which is scheduled to be played in Srinagar.   -  Nissar Ahmed

Minerva Punjab’s refusal to travel to Srinagar for Monday’s I-League match against Real Kashmir has triggered a row, leaving the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in a quandary. Minerva’s decision means Kashmir is set to be awarded a 3-0 victory – a result with huge consequences in a title race that is going to the wire.

Minerva owner, Ranjit Bajaj, has called on the AIFF to postpone the tie on account of the prevailing “unsafe” situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The home club, though, believes the I-League should not call the game off, insisting that all is normal in the city, and is going ahead with its preparations. Chennai City FC (CFC) and East Bengal, who are battling Real Kashmir for the title, are understandably concerned.

“The AIFF should have postponed it till the situation was normal,” Bajaj told Sportstar. “My foreign players have got travel advisories from their embassies. How can I force them [to play]? By playing football there they just want to show everything is normal. But everything is not normal,” he said.

“It is not just a mere forfeit…the 3+ goal difference is unfair on teams fighting for the title. Minerva has been having a bad season [9th place fighting relegation] but we have not lost more than 1-0 in any game. We have even beaten East Bengal away. So it is definitely not going to be a 3-0 result if we play,” he added.

Read: Minerva Punjab denies reports of 'forfeiting' Real Kashmir game

Kashmir co-owner Shamim Meraj said the reasons for the Minerva no-show had more to it than what meets the eye. "If the police have said that they will give security, you have to believe them," he said. "Our coach David Robertson, one of the most famous Brits, has got no advisory. Neither have our six foreign players,” he said.

Meraj also referred to Bajaj’s allegedly inflammatory posts about Real Kashmir and said it was his players’ security that has now been compromised. “What if we say we are feeling unsafe in Odisha [before Indian Arrows match] next? We don't want it to become an ‘us versus them’ thing. Bengaluru FC-B has to play Lonestar [Kashmir] in Srinagar. Would they come if AIFF had decided to postpone our match? Myself, Sandeep Chattoo [co-owner] and the whole club believe football will live in Kashmir and we will ensure it does,” he added.

Rohit Ramesh, Chennai City owner, said a more collaborative approach could have worked. His club is top on 34 points from 16 games, with Real Kashmir and East Bengal tied for second spot on 32. In fact the latter is set to travel to Srinagar on February 28 for what could be the title-decider. Sanjit Sen, East Bengal CEO said that he had conveyed his concerns and was waiting for an official response.

“Forfeiting and giving three points to the other team is not fair play,” said Rohit. “The East Bengal game was postponed because of weather. During a crisis scenario like this, can’t they change the date?”

Also Read: East Bengal holds Churchill Brothers to 1-1 draw

Even as Bajaj stated that Minerva was ready to play the fixture at a venue outside Kashmir, I-league CEO Sunando Dhar said the situation in Kashmir had returned to normal. 

“We had several rounds of meetings with our local admins, security,” he said. “Our referees and match commissioner reached three days before and their eyes and ears are on the ground. They have been moving around Srinagar, markets are open, life is normal. What happened [the attack] was unfortunate. The match would have been the right answer. If a team doesn't turn up despite all assurances, appropriate action will be taken.”

Bengaluru FC said it would consult the AIFF soon and then decide on its ‘B’ team travelling to Lonestar Kashmir on February 28 for a I-League second division encounter.

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