Coronavirus: What if I-League doesn’t restart? Clubs’ opinion

I-League is currently suspended till March 31…

Following a government directive, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) suspended all I-League 2019-20 matches till March 31, 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Indian football was brought to a standstill.

The Indian FA also suspended the 2nd Division league matches, youth leagues, baby leagues and all national competitions with immediate effect.

The ongoing pandemic has affected football competitions around the world. All major leagues have been suspended and UEFA has announced that the Euro has been pushed back by 12 months. 

With India seeing the number of Coronavirus cases cross the 150-mark, it is very unlikely that the I-League will restart after the March 31 deadline. The Indian FA had initially proposed to play the remaining matches under closed doors but for the directive from the Government. There is a chance that the league might be suspended altogether and the opinion on that is split amongst the clubs.

Mohun Bagan secured the title with four games to spare but the rest of the positions, including relegation, are undecided.

Gokulam Kerala president VC Praveen feels the league should be completed even if the restart is delayed. He said, “We will have to spend a few lakhs extra. But if the league doesn’t happen (at all), spending crores for nothing is a huge loss. The team which won the league and somebody at the bottom, maybe interested (to stop the league).

“In a week or two, hopefully, everything becomes alright. The league should be completed, 100 per cent. So much is at stake for everyone. Except for the champions, no positions are decided.” It must be noted that only one point separates second-placed Punjab FC and sixth-placed Gokulam Kerala. 

Churchill Brothers official Macario Rodrigues concurred, ” If we have five matches, we have to play. We have a second place to play for.”

Aizawl FC’s Robert Royte is also hopeful of a restart but does not want it delayed. “We are hopeful (that the league would start again). But honestly, we have not heard anything of this sort as of now. This is an emergency situation. If the league gets postponed, AIFF should see to it that it does not cross the deadline to meet all footballing activities, i.e. May 31. After that then there will be problem with contracts.

“We have got to do fresh paperworks and then more money will be involved. But within that time, the league should be finished. We are aiming for the fifth position. It is still possible as we will be playing most of our matches at home,” Royte said.

On the other side, Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh believes it would make sense if AIFF decided to bring the season to an end. “Ideally speaking, it should be pushed and held later. But if the Coronavirus cases are increasing or we do not have clarity on the crisis, we might as well cancel it. Since we already have the league winners, we got clarity as far as the AFC slots are concerned. We might as well wrap it up and start afresh next season.”

Chennai City vs Aizawl

Punjab FC co-owner Ranjit Bajaj also wants the league to restart even if it is delayed once the risk factor is reduced to zero. He said, “I don’t care where we finish or where we are now in the standings. The league must start when it is safe to start. When the risk has been completely eliminated, then only the league should start.”

NEROCA secretary Mani Mohan was also in favour of ending the league early. “If the AIFF decides to stop the league then we don’t have any problem. Yes, we spent money on floodlights. But NEROCA, will not have any problem if the league is not restarted,” he said.

East Bengal official Debarata Sarkar was uncommitted when Goal contacted him. “We will not make any comment on this. As of now we don’t have any such information from the AIFF. If they do decide to discontiue the league then we will clear our stand,” he said.

If the league doesn’t restart, there would be a financial burden on the clubs. But health and safety are paramount and the AIFF will take that into consideration before announcing a decision.