City football giants East Bengal here on Tuesday said they were ready to travel to Srinagar for the potentially title-deciding match against Real Kashmir FC if “forced” to do so by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), but would still request it to put off the game to a later date.
“We are appealing to the AIFF to consider this on humanitarian grounds. A team who is in the title race cannot play under such circumstances. We will not take any legal steps. If they force we will play,” East Bengal top official Debabrata Sarkar told reporters at the club tent.
East Bengal are in second spot in the points table, five points adrift of leaders Chennai City FC with a game in hand. Real Kashmir are in third with the same number of points and having played 16 games like the red and golds.
East Bengal, originally scheduled to take on fellow title contender Real Kashmir on February 10, saw their match postponed to February 28 due to snowfall in the Valley.
But after the February 14 Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF troopers, defending champions Minerva Punjab FC refused to play in Srinagar despite the AIFF assuring full security.
Minerva have challenged the AIFF league committee’s decision not to postpone the I-League tie and their plea is likely to be heard by the Delhi High Court on Friday.
In East Bengal’s case too, the parent body has assured that authorities concerned in Srinagar have given them the green signal for the match on February 28.
“The situation is under control. The team has been there for 14 days now and they haven’t faced any problem. We have got assurances from top security in charge. The game will take place as scheduled,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told IANS.
But Sarkar said in reply to their letter, dated February 15, the AIFF has said they won’t postpone the match further.
“We are not here to fight with the AIFF. We want to save football and footballers. If something happens to players it will be a bad advertisement for Indian football. But if the AIFF forces us then we will try to convince our players to go,” he said, minutes after getting the reply from the parent body.
“Our coach (Alejandro Menndez), a foreigner, and six foreign players have raised concerns over playing there,” Sarkar said.
The official said they don’t have any problem in playing at Srinagar, which is 20 kms away from Pulwama, but will again request the AIFF to push the date a bit further.
“We have never said we will not play in Kashmir. We will definitely go. What we are suggesting is that reschedule the match. Let things get back to normal in Kashmir. We will play the match in Kashmir, but after a few days,” Sarkar remarked.