It’s been a month into the new season and with stringent health protocols in place the competition is proceeding smoothly, albeit in the shadow of COVID-19.

On 20th November 2020, India had 4,43,794 active cases of COVID-19, a pandemic that had shut down the entire world for a significant period of time. As other activities continued to open gradually, sports, too, started operations. With several notable restrictions and changes. In India, the Indian Super League (ISL) – Indian football’s top flight showed the way.

The resumption of the league brought immense respite for Indian fans, who had witnessed the early culmination of the I-League and a fan-less final in Goa in the ISL’s previous season.

“I am proud to announce that ISL will become the first sporting event of such large scale to be organized in India. We are overjoyed to bring the league back into your homes once again and broadcast it in over 80 countries outside of India,” said FSDL chairperson Nita Ambani in a statement before the commencement of the competition.

Organizing it was not easy. The league announced its Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as early as July, keeping every precautionary measure in mind. A central medical team headed by a League Hygiene Officer was formulated, to ensure the health of the organizers of the league. It was made mandatory for all clubs to rope in a Hygiene Officer.

In a country where cricket – regarded no less than God’s game, had to go to Dubai for a season of the Indian Premier League, football has proven to be a breath of fresh air.

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A health app was launched by the league for regular checking of symptoms of players and tests/surveys are being conducted on a daily basis. All players were required to get tested before flying to Goa and were kept in mandatory isolation for two weeks. Foreigners, too, had to go through the drill.

Players from other parts of the world re-routed their journeys to reach India. For instance, Fiji and ATK Mohun Bagan striker Roy Krishna flew to Australia and then came to India. Brazilian Alex Lima, playing for Jamshedpur FC, had to go to London from his home country and then fly to India.

All players, needless to say, were kept in isolation and under observation for a stipulated period on the advice of doctors. The platter of countries that cater to ISL’s requirements is certainly bigger than the Indian Premier League or other sporting leagues such as Premier Badminton League or Pro Kabaddi League.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) had announced resumption of sporting activities for Tokyo Olympics bound para-athletes and athletes at the National Centre of Excellence (NCE) across the country starting on October 5. Disciplines for which training has resumed are para-athletics, para-power lifting, para-shooting, para-archery, cycling, hockey, weightlifting, archery, wrestling, judo, athletics, boxing and fencing.

However, after two months of operations ongoing under SAI, any other Indian league is yet to announce its resumption in the country. This might hinder our athletes’ ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

The ISL has, in more ways than one, shown the way for the resumption of elite sports activities in India and it is advisable that other sports can now take a leaf out of football’s book.

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