The campaign has been indefinitely suspended in light of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The All India Football Federation has commenced informal talks with club owners of the I-League with regards to the current COVID-19 outbreak that has brought the competition to a halt. They are discussing numerous possibilities including a scenario where the current season might have to be discontinued, claims a report in the Times of India.
As of now, the country is on a 21-day lockdown that is going to last till 14th April. Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba has said today that there are no plans to extend the lockdown. Nevertheless, it also needs to be reiterated that a clearer understanding on this issue will be seen when we near the second week of April.
Meanwhile, the AIFF requires two weeks to resume the league once the restrictions are lifted. They would also need three weeks to ensure that the remaining four gameweeks are completed. Hence, many seem to believe that we might have already seen the last of the competition for the 2019-20 campaign.
Further, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said, “For now, everything is closed till April 14 and depending on the situation, we will take a call closer to the date. Once the restrictions are lifted, we cannot start the league the next day. Teams need to train, travel arrangements need to be made and the grounds – not maintained for some time now – have to be in shape. Our season officially ends on May 31 and we cannot play beyond that.”
Fortunately though, Mohun Bagan have already clinched the title and hence that complication wouldn’t arise. Accordingly, no teams would be relegated if the season is cancelled. There is a solution regarding the prize money to be distributed as per the final position attained by the teams in the league table. It is being suggested that the total purse could be divided between the second and third placed teams and the remaining clubs.
However, the second tier of the I-League currently has aspirant clubs like Mohammedan Sporting, ARA FC and Bengaluru United who are seeking promotion to the competition. Their hopes could end up being dashed as things stand presently.
About this, Dhar remarked, “We cannot say the second division is null and void (at this stage). The state leagues were over in September and for five months, they have prepared and paid their players with the league in mind. It’s a sensitive matter. Maybe closer to April 15, we will have a conference call with everyone and take a collective decision. We all love football, but at this moment saving lives is more important.”
It is believed that some clubs are keen to call off the league. However, not all parties have agreed to this notion. Accordingly, a few teams are believed to have prepared to send their foreign players back to their respective countries. If the league does restart, the teams are primed to play their respective matches with an all-Indian squad.