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COVID-19: I-League must go on, says AIFF General Secretary Das

July 13, 2020 19:12 IST


IMAGE: Mohun Bagan were declared as the Hero I-League champion for the 2019-20 season. Photograph: AIFF Media/Twitter

The All India Football Federation plans to go ahead with the 2020-21 I-League season even if the clubs' star foreign recruits are unable to make it due to the coronavirus-forced travel restrictions.

International flights remain suspended since March owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.


"The league must go on even if without foreigners. But there are other people including the league committee chairman, Mr Subrata Dutta (who will also be need to be on same page)," AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said during a webinar organised by Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) on Monday.

He said that the senior national team will have an Indian as its chief coach in the next five years.

"We are looking at an Indian coach for the senior national team in the next five years," Das said.

"There are many exciting coaches now, Bibiano Fernandes being one of them. There are people like Venky (Shanmugam Venkatesh) who are also maturing very fast."

A former India player, Venkatesh is currently assisting senior national team chief coach Igor Stimac, while Bibiano is the coach of the U-16 team.

Under Bibiano, the team narrowly missed out on a semifinal berth in the last edition of the AFC U-16 Championship, losing to Korea.

"We also plan to send a contingent of 10-12 coaches to the Netherlands and Germany to see how it works. This was supposed to start this year but will be done from next year," Das said.

In view of the delicate situation, he said the ISL could be held in Goa as the stakeholders are looking for a venue with multiple stadiums, and the football-crazy state fulfill that criteria.

While Kolkata, by default, may end up hosting all the I-League matches as the ISL cannot be held there with the Salt Lake Stadium undergoing renovation for the women's U-17 World Cup.

Hailing the coming together of Mohun Bagan and ATK in the ISL, Das said it's only a matter of time before East Bengal too join them in the franchise-based event.

He expressed confidence that India will soon qualify for the Youth World Cup on merit, having played once by virtue of being the host of the 2017 men's U-17 World Cup and preparing for another appearance as a host nation of the next Women's U-17 World Cup.

"Last time our U-16 team lost to Korea in quarters and could not make it to semis. Our coach Bibiano believes this team is better than last time's team though we are in a tough group," Das said.

"I believe Korea, Uzbekistan and Australia have already started training, but I am still very hopeful about this team."

With the pandemic not allowing them to complete the season, the AIFF will have to decide on the winner of the second division league, and they want to do that by organising a competition by mid September, the winner of which will be promoted to the I-league. 

Women's U-17 World Cup will be held behind closed doors in worst-case scenario: AIFF

The FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup will be held behind closed doors only in the worst-case scenario, All India Football Federation general secretary Kushal Das said amid a continued rise in the country's COVID-19 case count.

Already postponed once, the tournament is to be held from February 17 to March 7 next year as per the revised schedule.

"In the worst case scenario, we will have to do it behind closed doors and that will be a pity (especially after the grand success of the men's U-17 World Cup in 2017), but human lives are of course most important," Das said during a webinar organised by Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI).

The pandemic has so far claimed more than 22000 lives in the country with the number of positive cases crossing 8 lakh.

The camp for the tournament is likely to begin in August with Jharkhand emerging as the frontrunner to be the host. The state's chief minister Hemant Soren has taken it upon himself to play host.

"It's a very tricky issue. We discussed with the Goa government in terms of camps but we are also in talks with other governments. For example, Jharkhand, where the CM himself is interested because there are 8-10 girls in the squad from the state," Das said.

"Different states have different protocols. With the Jhakhand project led by the CM himself, I am sure it would be easier for us that way in terms of protocols.

"It is definitely going to start by first week of August or around August 15," he added.

Regarding the senior national men's team, which has two World Cup Qualifiers scheduled against Qatar and Afghanistan in October and November respectively, the top federation official said its camp will be held in Bhubaneswar.

"As regards travels, it varies from state to state, place to place, they all have different protocols."

He said expenses incurred in testing of players will be taken care of by the AIFF, which is looking forward to some FIFA aid to sail through the crisis.

The first instalment from the global football body is likely to come around July 20.

"It is our responsibility to test players during camps. FIFA has declared a special grant for COVID, but of course, they have not said how this is going to be used. But we are going to use some of the amount in testing."

If the situation remains the same in the coming months, he said it will be extremely difficult to host international matches (World Cup qualifiers), what with all the travelling and quarantining.

"We have written to the Sports Ministry. Once the international flights start, which is I think from July 15, some protocols will be in place hopefully." 

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