Some major international games were scheduled in the recent months but they stand postponed at the moment.
The ongoing global spread of the Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 has caused the biggest-ever disruption to the worldwide sporting calendar since World War II. Almost all upcoming major competitions including the UEFA Euro 2020 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed indefinitely. On the other hand, hundreds of other competitions across the world have been cancelled with no clear indication of their resumption in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, in India too, the case is similar – the Indian cricket team saw some of their bilateral series getting cancelled, while the Indian Premier League (IPL) has also been postponed until further notice. In case of football, while the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 title was won by ATK behind closed doors, neither the I-League nor the 2nd Division League was allowed to complete their respective seasons. In fact, the AIFF has already called off the I-League 2019-20 season and declared Mohun Bagan the champions, although each of the other participating teams had at least three matches remaining.
With the virus not showing any signs of slowing down, India is expected to remain in lockdown for even longer than it was initially expected. This, in turn, will affect all sports happening in the country. That said, Khel Now takes a look at how Indian football, in particular, will suffer from the ravages of the Coronavirus in the upcoming weeks months.
5. Lesser crowds at Matchday venues
One of the biggest points of strength for Indian football has been its loyal fanbase. Irrespective of whether it is a local derby or an international game, Indians have always welcomed football with packed stands.
The Coronavirus, however, will change that as restrictions are likely to be imposed on the number of fans who will be allowed to enter the stadiums during matches – if the games will not be held behind closed doors or get cancelled altogether, that is. Hence, gone are the days when you can expect 60,000 odd fans at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi during a heated Southern Derby between Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC or during a must-win international game where Sunil Chhetri is expected to add more goals to his already huge tally.
4. Dormant transfer market
With the 2019-20 ISL season done and dusted, it should have been the time when clubs tried to supplement their team strength with the help of new signings. But the Coronavirus has dampened the transfer market activity as well. In fact, most teams are rather trying to figure out how to cut losses due to lack of footballing activities these days.
In addition, many countries and regions have imposed travel restrictions for their own citizens as well, and these restrictions could prevent foreign players from travelling overseas – making it impossible for them to play in India. This, in turn, could further affect the transfer market.
The same applies to the I-League as well – and one can expect this dormant phase to continue for at least a few more weeks, until the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the other concerned authorities make up their mind on the future of both competitions. Situations in other countries have to improve as well, so that foreign stars can be given the all-clear to play in the ISL and the I-League.
3. Cancellation/postponement of important tournaments
The 2019-20 Goa Pro League season has already been deemed null and void by the organisers, and if the global pandemic continues to create an impact in the country, other tournaments also face the threat of potential cancellation or postponement.
Moreover, the 2020-21 ISL and I-League seasons may also be voided or postponed indefinitely. That is, of course, depending on how the country responds to the virus by the end of August-September. The country is under a lockdown till the 3rd of May as of now but one cannot deny the possibility of it to get extended once again. That in turn may also lead to a delayed start to the 2020-21 domestic season in India.
2. ISL, I-League clubs may tend to initiate the ‘Force Majeure’ clause in player contracts
COVID-19 has already brought football to a standstill in India as we all know, but what if the effects of the virus continue to last much longer than expected?
This would mean that there would be no more footballing activity in the country for a long time, at least for several more months and that would be a huge setback to the franchises in the ISL and the I-League. Although they are football clubs, in the end they are all still businesses run by various groups and the club owners may hence be forced to save their own businesses by terminating player contracts and putting them off salaries, with the help of ‘Force Majeure’ clauses inserted into their deals.
As a matter of fact, Kolkata giants East Bengal have already activated the clause on Sunday and told players that their contracts are being prematurely terminated. It was only on April 21 that the Executive Committee of the AIFF decided that the ongoing crisis was a force majeure circumstance. In fact, there is still no certainty about when sporting activities including football can be resumed across the country.
Earlier this month, it was reported that most I-League clubs would hold back the salaries of the players and the staff for the months of April and May as no football would be played in those months. If the ongoing conditions with reference to the pandemic prevail or go worse after May, more clubs may be forced to take the same route as that of East Bengal.
1. Postponement of the U-17 Women’s FIFA World Cup 2020 and the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers
All of us are fans of various ISL and I-League teams but at the end of it all, we want to see India hogging the limelight at international competitions. The supposed-to-be-upcoming U-17 Women’s FIFA World Cup 2020 and the FIFA World Cup 2022 set to be held in Qatar were perfect opportunities for India to shine where it matters in football.
Let’s face it, the Blue Tigers have only a tiny glimmer of hope remaining in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers – nevertheless, it was still a platform for the team to learn and grow. Furthermore, the U-17 girls were expected to do one better and make the whole nation proud by doing well in their tournament, as they had already qualified for the competition as hosts. However, the coronavirus played spoilsport and resulted in the postponement of both tournaments.
Further, lack of training is also expected to take a toll on footballers all over the country, as keeping fit without help from qualified professionals would be a great challenge. This could further dent India’s preparations for the U-17 World Cup and also the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
In case you missed it, the 2021 U-17 FIFA World Cup to be held in Peru has already been postponed by FIFA and India stood a chance to qualify for the tournament. The Asian qualifiers for the competition have not begun yet and because of the Coronavirus, it is all set to start on an even later date than currently expected.