All matches of this season’s I-League and second division league qualifiers will be held in Kolkata with strict health and safety measures in place to deal with the COVID-19 threat, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) said on Friday.Also Read - Sandesh Jhingan Named AIFF Men's Footballer of Year, Suresh Wins Emerging Player Award
The decision was taken in a virtual meeting of the League Committee chaired by AIFF senior vice-president Subrata Dutta. The I-League, the country’s second-tier club competition, is likely to kick off in November while the second division qualifiers is tentatively scheduled for the third week of next month. But the schedule of both the leagues is subject to government clearance. Also Read - Indian Football Team Coach Igor Stimac's Contract Extended Till September Next Year
“Keeping in mind available infrastructure and … granting requisite permissions to organize 2nd division qualifiers and subsequently I-League 2020-21 including arranging for practice sessions for participating clubs, the Committee unanimously decided to grant hosting rights of 2nd division qualifiers and I-League to IFA, Kolkata,” the AIFF said in a release. Also Read - Lionel Messi Agrees to Sign New Five-Year Deal With Barcelona With Massive Pay-Cut: Reports
“The Hero 2nd division qualifiers will also serve as a dress rehearsal for the Hero I-League and enable all involved stakeholders to understand the COVID bubble and operate likewise for a seamless operation,” it added.
The AIFF said the schedule and date for the second division qualifiers and the I-League, however, would be finalized once the guidelines from the central government are issued.
Dutta said that the AIFF will directly be responsible for the safety of the players and officials. “The League department has already prepared the SOP which is to be strictly followed. The onus this year is not on the clubs but on the AIFF and the concerned state associations since we have already decided that the Leagues would be held in one venue.
“We need to adhere to all the safety protocols to ensure that not a single player or official gets infected.
“We must ensure that we adhere to the standards to live up to the expectations of the football lovers in the country. The Leagues need to be organised in a manner that will set an example for others to follow, he said.
AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das suggested the shortening of the duration of the I-League in view of the pandemic.
“Let it be absolutely clear that the safety of players cannot be compromised with at any cost. It would be difficult to accept any COVID related infections on the players and officials, he said.
“There have been instances of global leagues condensing their format. We need to relook at the duration of Hero I-League and Hero ISL to ensure the absolute safety of players.
“Organising the league in one single venue under current circumstances is not easy. We need to think rationally.”
Regarding the AIFF Academy Accreditation, the Committee granted an extension till September 30 for submission of all relevant documents in view of the current situation.