The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is ready to accept the inevitable over the coronavirus pandemic and has told I-League club owners that the current season will not restart anytime soon, essentially calling it to an end.
The clubs had called off training and all football activities over the past few weeks, and told their players to isolate themselves at home or wherever they feel comfortable.
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Even though the decision isn’t official yet, a club owner confirmed that the season has been called off, and the I-League has also confirmed that there will be no relegation for this season. With Mohun Bagan officially declared the champions for the season mere weeks before the pandemic and lockdown hit Indian shores, complications about prize money were avoided. Money may be split evenly amongst the rest of the clubs in the league.
The I-League has been suspended since March 14 after the coronavirus outbreak in India and with the nation-wide lockdown currently in place till April 15 likely to be extended, there was very little chance of a restart. The AIFF needs a total of five weeks to complete the season, two weeks to kickstart the competition and three weeks to play the remaining matches.
“Once the restrictions are lifted, we cannot start the league the next day,” Sunando Dhar, CEO of the I-League was quoted by the Times of India. “Teams need to train, travel arrangements need to be made and the grounds – not maintained for some time now – have to be in shape. Our season officially ends on May 31 and we cannot play beyond that.”
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The decision, although not official, puts to bed the uncertainty surrounding the schedule over the past few weeks. It also gives team owners relief to convey this to players who may have otherwise also been mentally taxing themselves with the future of the fixtures to be played.
One team owner, who declined to be named as the news is not official, said he had already sent his foreign players home, and was prepared to play just the local players if the league had resumed. “There was no way I could bring them back. It was unaffordable for me and didn’t make sense to increase the risk, if the lockdown had been removed and everything went back to normal,” the owner said.
While the I-league’s cancellation provides closure to the clubs, the second division remains in limbo. Dhar intimated that they were not going to take decisions about the 2nd division till the end of the lockdown, that is April 15. “Maybe closer to April 15, we will have a conference call with everyone and make a collective decision. We all love football but at this moment, saving lives is more important,” he added.
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This leaves second division clubs stuck in the same situation of uncertainty they have been battling for a few weeks now. “There has been no official communication from their side about cancelling the 2nd Division yet,” an owner said. “I have heard rumours, just like, apparently everyone else, that they may end it now, and there will be no promotions. But we haven’t been told anything.”
Even though 2nd division teams employ fewer foreign players and pay out lower salaries, the loss they could incur because of the limbo would be devastating. While no one says it openly there is also a sense that cancelling the fixtures there right now is disappointing from a football point of view too. For many, the 2nd division exists only because of the opportunity it provides for promotion. Without it, football is meaningless. “Right now all the players have been sent home, but they are prepared to play, if and when we kick back on. When will that happen? No one knows. So we are sitting on our hands hoping we get a decision one way or another.”
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