There have been multiple occasions in the last couple of years when the pandemic has disrupted the game.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, life around the world hasn’t been the same. Most people around the globe have been impacted in one way or the other, with lockdowns, restrictions and other things causing a lot of hardship. Football has also been a victim of the pandemic. This also includes Indian football, whose landscape has changed variably since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The Indian Super League, I-League and other state competitions have undergone major changes to survive the changing times. Players have suffered from bio-bubble exhaustion. Fans haven’t been allowed back in stadiums and games are being played behind closed doors.
There have been a few occasions when COVID-19 has really rocked Indian football, forcing major changes. Here we’ll look at five of those occasions.
5. Calcutta Football League 2020 season cancelled
The Calcutta Football League still remains the oldest football league in Asia and has the tradition of taking place every year, normally during the monsoon season in Kolkata. However, the competition was severely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. With lockdowns shutting down professional sports in the city, the organizers decided to cancel the 2020 season rather than postpone it.
The reason was that was there was uncertainty around whether teams can participate in a postponed CFL, with the Indian Super League and I-League taking place around the same time. This was only the third time since its inception that a Calcutta Football League season was cancelled. The first time it occurred was in 1930 due to the Satyagraha movement. In 1947, it remained suspended due to Indian Independence. With many depending on the league for their bread and butter, players and officials were rocked by the cancellation. However, the Indian Football Association (IFA) did all it could to help them financially.
4. Goa Pro League 2021/22 campaign suspended
The recent-most example of a state league being impacted by COVID-19 is that of the Goa Professional League. The 2021/22 campaign of the competition was halted towards the end of its first phase on January 4, due to the rising number of cases in Goa. This was after the COVID positive rate reached a high of 26.43% on January 4.
The Goa Women’s League also came to a halt. The postponement irked club owners because there was no rule in place to stop sporting events in Goa. However, the competition has not restarted yet given the COVID situation in the state and there is no confirmation yet on when things will get underway again.
3. ATK Mohun Bagan postpone multiple ISL games after COVID outbreak
The 2021/22 season of the ISL has also been majorly hit with the breach in the bubble and a gradual rise in the number of cases. Multiple games were postponed with clubs in no position to field teams after COVID-19 outbreaks in their respective bubbles. Over 35 personnel, including players and staff members, tested positive. However, the club most impacted by COVID so far this season have been ATK Mohun Bagan. An outbreak within their squad saw multiple first-team players test positive, along with some support staff.
As a result, the Mariners had three games postponed in January – against Odisha FC, Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters. Their rescheduled game against Odisha took place on January 23, ending in a goalless draw. As a result, ATKMB have played the least number of matches so far among all ISL side this season and have a mountain to climb to compete for a summit finish.
2. I-League 2021/22 season suspended
The 2021/22 I-League season didn’t even get properly underway before tragedy struck. With only six games played in the first week, a COVID-19 outbreak ravaged the league. Multiple players and support staff across teams returned positive results, leading to cancellation of games.
In early January, the All India Football Federation announced that they would suspend the league for at least the next six weeks. The plans of teams have been ravaged by these postponements and with the season to be stretched, teams might have to modify player contracts.
1. India women’s team forced to withdraw from AFC Women’s Asia Cup 2022
The Indian national women’s team had a lot of ambitions going into the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. They had prepared for it for the last few years, with Thomas Dennerby putting in a lot of work with the girls. The Blue Tigresses received a minor setback before their opener against Iran, when Sweety Devi tested positive for COVID. They played out a goalless draw in that one, but things went from bad to worse from there.
India were scheduled to face the Chinese Taipei side in their next match on January 23 (Sunday). But, the team failed to turn up for the game. It was eventually called off at the very last moment, with at least 11 COVID-19 positive cases in the Indian football team. The AFC later announced in a press release that India had withdrawn from the competition, with their previous result against Iran made null & void. Years of work by the girls was ruined by a horrible COVID-19 outbreak. The elimination also meant India can no longer qualify for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.