I-League teams seek assurances from AIFF to start preparing for new season

A majority of the teams respond positively to the decision to host the upcoming season in a single city.

In this picture taken on 14 March, TRAU FC players walk back after their I-League match against Real Kashmir in Srinagar is cancelled due to COVID-19. The players will find it monotonous to be in a bio-bubble scenario for three months, admits Phulen Meitei, secretary of TRAU FC.   -  PTI

A majority of the I-League clubs have responded positively to the decision to host the upcoming season in a single city to minimise the risk of contracting the prevalent coronavirus. However, they seek assurances and clarity from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to start preparations for the competition.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar felt Kolkata was the ‘ideal venue’ to play out the season. Dhar told Sportstar, “That is one of the venues that we are talking about. We need three-four grounds to play and a similar number of grounds to practise. Kolkata is one of the cities which fits the requirements of infrastructure. We are in dialogue with the Indian Super League (ISL) and the government [in West Bengal].”

He added, “We are planning for a November last week kick-off but we need clearance from central government. We are expecting clarity by the end of the month. Hopefully, by November we should be in a position to start.”

Need for planning

Gokulam Kerala’s president, V. C. Praveen, whose club won the 2019 Durand Cup in Kolkata last season, commended the federation’s decision to host the tournament in one city. He, however, wants it to be more forthcoming with its planning.

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“We would like to know when the I-League will happen. Normally, it begins two-three weeks after the ISL starts. We need to have proper planning. Our contract with the Indian players is seven-eight months, so if we get to know when the season starts we can keep the players informed,” he said.

He added, “It is a good attempt by the AIFF to keep it in one city. But the only thing is we would like to know things much earlier.”

Accommodation costs

Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh felt accommodating all the clubs in one city could be a challenge. “The issue is we will have 10 clubs in the same city. We have to see how the clubs will pick and choose the hotel. We’ll have to see how many star hotels will be available. Will one hotel be able to accommodate two clubs? We have to speak to multiple hotels to find a viable option,” he said.

Several clubs were of the opinion that the AIFF should bear the costs of accommodation and travel during the season. “The AIFF should take care of the expenses with respect to accommodation and local travel. Without subsidy how can we afford to stay more than four months in a rented hotel? We need good hotels and food. Lets us hope AIFF can take considerations of all these teams and their costs. Otherwise, it will be a big blow for the clubs,” Robert Royte, owner of Aizawl FC, said.

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Dhar said the AIFF is in the process of working out a solution to alleviate the clubs of their expenses. “Each year, we pay an amount to each club as a subsidy for travel and hotel for outstation matches. We are in dialogue with hotels to see if we can get rates with a bulk booking for the teams. Then instead of paying money to the teams, we can take care of their expenses,” he said.

Arunkumar Thangjam, president of NEROCA, is keen for the League to move further east to Manipur. “In Manipur, there are two I-League teams: NEROCA and TRAU. If AIFF had given us an opportunity to host the competition, it could be done in Imphal and that would have been ideal for us,” said Thangjam.

‘Tough situation’

A possible three to four-month period in a highly-secured environment to complete a football tournament in the time of a pandemic concerns Phulen Meitei, secretary of TRAU FC.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar: "We are planning for a November last week kick-off but we need clearance from central government." - B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

“We are mentally prepared to play the I-League. If the vaccine is not developed by then, it will be a tough situation for all the teams coming into one city and being housed in one hotel. The players will find it monotonous to be in a bio-bubble scenario for three months, without any spectators in the stands. We can’t keep them in one room and ask them to keep playing football. Life will be hell,” he said.

“Sometimes, players will also want to get out. There are chances of the virus being caught by the player by moving out and spreading to others. Then it will put things in jeopardy. The best is to wait for the vaccine. If we can have a vaccine by October, then we can have a scheduled start with a home and away league,” he added.

Safety the priority

Valanka Alemao, CEO of Churchill Brothers, feels the ideal situation would have been to play out the season in Goa, which is tipped to host the ISL. However, with the number of cases rising in Goa, as well as in Kolkata, she feels players safety is of prime importance.

“The safety of the players is what concerns us. I hope the AIFF can come clear on it so we can plan ahead because we have to find players as well.”

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“We would have loved to play in Goa. However, the situation has gotten bad in Goa and the infection rate is much higher in Kolkata,” she said, adding “the safety of the players is very important. I hope the AIFF can come clear on it so we can plan ahead because we have to find players as well.

“Every player is somebody’s son, brother or a husband. We need to worry about their safety foremost and we need to respect them. If we go to Kolkata, obviously the federation is responsible, but some things are not in anybody’s hands. For example, the second division is set to happen in August but I don’t think it can go ahead because the situation in Kolkata is really bad,” she said.

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