The league’s CEO spoke on the resumption of Indian football and the tentative schedule of the various ompetitions in the country.

The 2020-21 Indian football season is only few days away and the various teams involved in the Indian Super League (ISL), I-League and the I-League Qualifiers are busy in preparation for what promises to be an exciting campaign. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a dampener on the season, with the ISL to be hosted in Goa and the I-League being held in Kolkata. But, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) are trying to ensure the smooth running of both competitions. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, AIFF caught up with I-League CEO Sunando Dhar to help fans keep track of all the latest developments in the league.

In the half-hour long chat, Dhar spoke about a host of topics including the security and healthcare measures taken ahead of the 2020-21 I-League, the tentative schedule of the competition and more. Dhar began by speaking about the key forces behind the quick launch of the I-League.

“It was a challenge. Obviously, we got help from the AFC. As you know, some of the major football leagues in Asia have already started – it started in Korea before Qatar Super League returned, and AFC had organized a workshop in association with the people who are in-charge of the Korean and Qatari leagues. Other member countries of the confederation, including India, were able to pick up a lot of pointers from this workshop in terms of what all regulations were implemented to facilitate the proper functioning of the competition.”

“We would also like to thank the AIFF and the West Bengal government in particular, without whom none of this would have been possible. We are extremely happy that AIFF will be the first federation to host a live sporting event in the country post the pandemic,” he added.

He went on to reveal that the ongoing pandemic has not prevented some I-League teams from even starting their training. Further, the clubs have also begun thinking twice before signing foreign players. Because of these issues, Dhar warned that the start of the league may be pushed to the last week of December.

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“We had a meeting with I-League club owners. The situation is very grim in some parts of India. Some teams have not been able to start practicing. Also coming in of foreign players is a cause of concern. The general consensus was if the league could be postponed by a month and so the end date. That is being considered at the moment. We are checking this with IFA (Indian Football Association) and West Bengal government. It will be decided pretty soon and the tournament could start in last week of December,” explained Sunando Dhar.

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“The youth leagues were a tremendous success in the last few years. But, it is not possible to do that in a bio-bubble with 300 teams. Therefore, it can be only planned when we come out of the pandemic situation. Maybe after the 2020-21 season begins, we can kick-start the youth leagues again,” he went on, before adding that the Indian Women’s League (IWL) will be postponed from January to May 2021.

“The final round of IWL is usually held in January. But, for that, the state associations must complete the women’s league at the state level. Therefore, the IWL has been shifted to May, so that the state leagues might be finished by April and the competition can be held in May and we could end the season with it.”

Despite the above problems, Dhar was quick to assure fans the AIFF and I-League have taken all necessary measures to protect all people involved in the competition, including the players, teams’ staff, coaches, organizers, security and so on. “It is a unique situation for all of us. Hence, the problems are also unique. It has been a challenge to put football back on the field. Football leagues have resumed in Europe and Asia and we are glad that we have been able to bring back competitive football. No one in the FOP (Field of Play) or in the competition area can enter without getting tested. These are extraordinary circumstances and hence extraordinary measures have been implemented,” concluded Sunando Dhar.

The Indian football season will officially begin on October 8, when the first match of the 2019-20 I-League Qualifiers kickoff with a game between Bhawanipore FC and FC Bengaluru United in Kolkata. The match is scheduled to begin at 12:30 pm IST.

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