The General Secretary of AIFF spoke about a host of topics in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interactive session with clubs and journalists from across the country, the General Secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Kushal Das answered a wide array of questions surrounding Indian football in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Das began the session by revealing the tentative dates for the different leagues and competitions in the upcoming month. According to him, the first competition to resume in the country will be the I-League 2nd Division. Earlier, the league was called off for an indefinite period of time due to the pandemic and to date, there is a big question mark as to which team will be promoted to the I-League next season.

Providing a sense of relief for the teams in contention, Kushal Das revealed that the AIFF is aiming to resume the 2nd Division League in mid-September. “The matches in question will most probably be held at a single venue and without spectators,” Kushal Das added.

That said, he also mentioned that the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League season will begin post India’s FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifier against Afghanistan. Das went on to shed light on the logistical issues that will be faced in light of the qualifiers. With international transport suspended, it remains to be seen how transportation will be arranged, especially with the Qatar national team scheduled to visit India in early October.

Moving on, he spoke about how the ISL will be played at a single venue for the upcoming season. “A single venue with multiple stadiums will be considered for the season,” he quoted. Goa being the most likely venue, Kushal Das ruled out the possibility of Kolkata hosting the competition.

“Salt Lake Stadium will be reserved for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and will, thus, not be available to conduct ISL games,” he said, breaking the hearts of fans in the City of Joy. However, he also went on to add that Kolkata will remain as the default venue for the I-League next season.

Having mentioned the I-League, Kushal Das expressed his opinion on the merger between ATK and Mohun Bagan. He remained confident that the move is a win-win situation for the two clubs as well as the ISL, considering the legacy that will be brought in by the historic club.

Subsequently, he also spoke about how East Bengal’s entry into the ISL is imminent, whether in the 2020-21 season or the succeeding one. “It is better to put in place a robust structure, rope in an investor for long-term before considering a move to the ISL,” he stated. He went on to explain that if East Bengal manage to do so along with sorting out the issues with the termination of contract with their previous investors, they are very well open to moving to the ISL ahead of this season itself.

Moving on, the training camp for the U-16 men’s national team and U-17 women’s national team is all set to begin and the General Secretary revealed the possible dates for the same are within the first week of August. It has been reported that Goa will host the camp, but Kushal Das mentioned that the Jharkhand government is interested too.

Moreover, it was clarified that until head coach Thomas Dennerby returns to the country, Alex Ambrose (assistant coach) and Precious Dede (goalkeeping coach) will conduct the training sessions of the squad.

The U-17 Women’s World Cup is scheduled in February-March next year and Kushal Das remained tight-lipped on whether it will be conducted behind closed doors. Speaking of which, he responded to Khel Now’s question when asked if the domestic leagues will continue during the WC. “Yes, they will continue to operate. There is no interference between the domestic leagues and the FIFA tournament due to the single venue structure in plan,” he quoted.

In addition, Kushal Das also addressed the questions put up regarding the senior national team training camp. “The camp will take place in Bhubaneswar, which is also the venue for the qualifier. We have sent a letter to the Odisha government regarding the camp and are awaiting a response on the same.” Saying so, he also expressed uncertainty over the time duration of the camp, despite head coach Igor Stimac quoting the requirement of six weeks.

During the session, Kushal Das also answered questions from various other attendees. Prominent topics addressed included the administration of youth leagues, plans to expand the Indian Women’s League, possibility of going through the AFC U-16 Championship and establishment of the National Centre of Excellence in Kolkata among others.

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