Minerva Punjab football team could shut down, says owner Ranjit Bajaj

Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj's remark comes a day after the club was told it will not be able to play its AFC Cup group-stage matches at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.

Jubilant Minerva Punjab FC players carry the team owner, Ranjit Bajaj, following their triumph in the I-League 2017-18 season.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

I-League team Minerva Punjab FC is considering shutting down, its owner Ranjit Bajaj told Sportstar on Friday.

Bajaj's staggering remark comes a day after Minerva was told it would not be able to play its Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup group stage matches at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar owing to renovation work.

Minerva is drawn in Group E alongside Chennaiyin FC, Abahani Dhaka, and Manang Marshyangdi. It's scheduled first home game is against Manang Marshyangdi on May 1.

“I'm sick and tired of fighting with the AIFF (All India Football Federation). Instead of trying to help me, they keep sabotaging me. I was sued for (Rs) 60 crores for an interview I gave last week, and now this. It is a blatant attempt to shut me out as a whistleblower and they have succeeded,” Bajaj said.

Related: Why I-League is made to play second fiddle in game of television eyeballs

“I came into football for the love of the sport and to promote it. This is not what I wanted to be doing. Any other country would have made much of me, but they are victimising me here."

Minerva was informed about the unavailability of the Kalinga Stadium in an email on Thursday night. “We had received written permission from the Sports Department of the Odisha government. All the inspections were carried out by the AFC personnel nearly 60 days ago. However, we were informed about Kalinga's unavailability last night," said Bajaj.

The Odisha government's letter to Minerva states that the Kalinga Stadium is being considered as one of the likely venues for the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, and hence will undergo a renovation. Minerva is now planning on writing to the AFC for clarity.

READ: Minerva pulls out of Super Cup

Article 16.2 of the AFC Cup 2019's Competition Regulations states, "Each Participating Club must play their home Matches in the one and only Stadium approved by the AFC throughout the Competition," and sub-section 16.2.1 adds that a club can change its stadium during the competition only if it is "forced to do so because of circumstances beyond its control."

100
 

READ: AIFF non-committal about I-League's future

The AIFF's AGS and Head of Competitions, Anil Kamat, said the Federation has no role in choosing the venue.

"Minerva had first chosen to play in Delhi, then decided to play in Ahmedabad and finally fixed Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium. All three venues were inspected and approved by the AFC. The Kalinga Stadium was not chosen by the AIFF, it was a direct deal between Minerva and the Odisha government," he said.

"It is up to the club to decide where to play. There is a provision that they can play at an alternate venue, provided it has been approved by the AFC. Minerva can write to the AFC and it's up to them to decide," said Kamat.

I-League CEO Sunando Dhar hoped Minerva Punjab would not shut down. "The AIFF would be more than ready to help and support one of our clubs (find a new venue). Ranjit and Minerva's contribution to Indian football has been massive, across age groups, and no one would want them to shut down," he said.

ALSO READ: 'No deep pockets, but we created champions'

Minerva Punjab has had a meteoric rise in Indian football. In its four years of existence, the club has won the I-League and all the age-group categories of the I-League (U-13, U-15 and U-18).