The I-league season is set to begin in a biosecure bubble at three venues in West Bengal on January 9. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) executive committee, which met on Thursday, October 22, made the decision based on the timeframe proposed by the West Bengal government, a source revealed. The date has to be ratified by the AIFF League’s Committee -- a formality mostly -- before getting officially announced.
The I-League matches will be staged at the same venues which hosted the I-League Qualifiers earlier this month, won by Mohammedan Sporting Club. The five-team mini qualifying tournament was in essence a pilot project for the AIFF, which used it as a stage to test its Covid-19 safety protocols.
Also Read | Mohammedan Sporting’s Ghosts Refuse to Disappear
With the successful completion of that tournament, the federation is confident of a smooth running of the first and second division leagues in the country -- the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League. The starting date of 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) was announced by the organisers a day earlier. The 11-team tournament will be held within a four-month long bubble in Goa from November 20.
However, both the ISL and the I-League would require players and the entire competition bandwagon to be in the bubble for over four months. The challenges are manifold, and one of the main reasons why the West Bengal government was reluctant to rush into staging the I-League this year. The initial plan was for a start in late November. The AIFF later wanted the I-League to start on December 26 but the Indian Football Association (IFA) and the West Bengal government were keen to push it to next year taking into account the fact that the pandemic is not exactly in control anywhere in the country.
The I-League season, in all likelihood, will be a shorter one, with just 80 matches in three months. The teams participating are Real Kashmir FC, Punjab FC, Chennai City FC, Gokulam Kerala, Churchill Brothers, Indian Arrows, NEROCA, Aizawl FC, TRAU and new entrants Sudeva Delhi FC and Mohammedan Sporting.
Also Read | What is AIFF’s Game Plan to Address the Elephant in I-League Room?
The competition will be divided into two stages. The 11 will play each other once in the first phase. Following that, the top five teams will be grouped together to play a single round-robin competition for the title. The six bottom teams will play each other in a relegation battle.
Silent on Elections?
The AIFF executive committee also made a couple of other significant decisions while at the same time, remained mum about a pertinent question, that of its elections which was due later this year. They did decide on a date for the AGM though -- December 21.
As per a federation source, the AIFF has taken the equity route for disbursing the Covid-19 Solidarity Fund that came from FIFA. It will be equally divided among states, and not according to the ranking, as was decided earlier. Each state will now receive a fund of a little over Rs 9 lakh.
Read more sports stories from Newsclick