Football after COVID-19: How to set the ball rolling

With the domestic season slated for a return only towards the end of the year, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is prepared to be flexible with its guidelines when it is safe for the the sport to resume.

The women’s national team coach Maymol Rocky hopes that the Indian Women’s League can be played in front of spectators. “The league is scheduled for February-March and hopefully things will be okay and back to normal by then. The girls love to play in front of fans,” she said.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Football was the last team sports event to take place in India before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to all sporting activities. In fact, we got a glimpse of how things will look like with the sport in the near future earlier in March when the Indian Super League (ISL) staged the final behind closed doors.

With the domestic season slated for a return only towards the end of the year, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is prepared to be flexible with its guidelines when it is safe for the the sport to resume.

READ| Here's how Liverpool fans celebrated first Premier League title in 30 years

The ISL and I-League, the primary men’s football competitions, are looking at a November start and could be played only across select venues. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said, “In our overall planning we have kept that possibility [reducing travel] in mind. If necessary we may have to play the matches in fewer venues and without spectators.” He, however, maintained that nothing is clear yet. “It is very difficult to immediately answer the question based on what the real situation is. Our season is not going to start before October-November. We will have to review the situation closer to that time,” he said.

India and ATK Mohun Bagan midfielder Pronay Halder insists the domestic season goes ahead later this year. “I hope we can recover and play the ISL,” said Halder, who played in the ISL final. “I think November is the proposed start. When I spoke to club officials earlier, they told me there will be no crowds in ISL [in India] until the start of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. We are professionals and safety is of primary importance for us.”

READ| Liverpool's assistant coach says our game is about movement and speed

Das said reducing travel will be among the priorities when the domestic season resumes. “We will have to decide on a few things including the number of venues. If a team has to travel from the West to NorthEast, then it’s a long journey and there won’t be direct flights to many places. We may have to consider whether we should curtail the number of venues or have a different format,” he said.

“Our season is not going to start before October-November. We will have to review the situation closer to that time,” says the AIFF general secretary Kushal Das (right).   -  PTI

 

Much like Hockey India, Das said AIFF, too, will turn to the Aarogya Setu app, the contact tracing technology endorsed by the central government. “We will have SOPs, in which the app will be a part, before conducting training camps. Prior to training camps, there will be testing of players. Within a span of 5-7 days, we will have re-tests especially in cases where there are doubts, even if the individual tests negative. There will be controlled access to training areas and camps. And there will be apps to help identify the symptoms,” said Das.

The women’s national team coach Maymol Rocky hopes that the Indian Women’s League can be played in front of spectators. “The league is scheduled for February-March and hopefully things will be okay and back to normal by then. The girls love to play in front of fans,” she said.

The boys’ U-16 and girls’ U-17 teams have major international tournaments in the horizon with the AFC U-16 Championship (September) and the home U-17 World Cup (February, 2021), respectively. Rocky is confident the federation will ensure the best preparation for these teams. “They had planned for many matches to be played before and now that might not happen. Exposure tours look difficult because of travel restrictions. They will have to manage with domestic matches or with some countries coming in to play friendlies. Safety will have to be paramount to take this forward. I am sure the federation and staff will do the best for the World Cup,” she said.

READ| Artificial crowd noise: a pre-recorded carnival as football returns

Das added that the federation is in discussions with the Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports on the possibility of starting the camps for the juniors teams. “We can’t confirm it yet. It is expected that July-August is the time the pandemic peaks in India. If not August, then it will be in the first week of September. It looks unlikely that we will have any camps before August and the ministry has also made it clear. These are young boys and girls and we need to be sensitive about this issue. The parents also need to be comfortable about the start of training camps,” he said.

A parent of a U-15 player from a leading ISL team is in favour of resumption of training camps in a restricted capacity and only when it is safe to do so. The parent under anonymity said, “Perhaps after testing the training can resume, but even then we don’t know what the situation will be when an individual returns home. We think his school will likely start in January. My wish is that they keep the players in a camp and start training for a month or two and not send them out anywhere. All the parents I speak to want their kids to play the sport again but only under safe circumstances and with the right guidelines.”