India legend Bhaichung Bhutia feels should the government permit resumption of sports events in empty stadium, football in the country should milk the opportunity to attract new viewers. Also Read - AIFF Approves New Foreigners' Rule in I-League, Says U-17 Women WC Postponement Won't Affect India's Preparation
With India currently in the midst of a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, normal life has come to a standstill with ban on public gatherings. Also Read - After Contract Terminations, East Bengal Footballers to Approach AIFF Through Players' Association
All sports events in the country have been suspended or postponed as a result and it doesn’t seem likely that live action will return anytime soon. This, though, Bhaichung says, is a chance for football in India to widen its fan base. Also Read - Would Like to Come Back And Celebrate Title Win With Players: MB Coach Kibu Vicuna
“There’s so less sport available live on TV. This may be an opportunity for Indian football to attract more viewers. I am not asking for the sport to resume when there is a crisis, but if the government allows sport to start with empty stands, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity,” Bhaichung was quoted as saying by The Times of India.
While the former India captain has backed playing football behind closed doors, All India Football Federation (AIFF) vice-president Subrata Dutta disagrees with his views.
“Who will guarantee that no one will have any symptoms of Covid-19? If something happens, the entire stadium will be sealed… And don’t forget, fans are the lifeblood of Indian football, gate receipts do matter here,” Dutta said.
Before the country went into lockdown mode, the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) was played inside empty stadium on March 14. However, Dutta says that was one-off and AIFF won’t rush into anything.
“That was a one-off. The derby in Kolkata between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan the next day didn’t happen…We have to wait, there’s no point rushing anything,” Dutta said.
On Tuesday, AIFF confirmed that the remaining I-League matches have been cancelled with runaway leaders Mohun Bagan declared champions.