The first competitive sporting event in India since coronavirus-induced restrictions were imposed will begin with I-League qualifiers at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Five teams- Mohammedan Sporting, Bhawanipore FC, FC Bengaluru United, ARA FC and Garhwal FC – will play for a position in the I-League.
All five participating teams have followed strict Covid-19 protocols. They were kept in an initial four-day isolation period, before the beginning of training. Players and officials have to undergo daily medical check ups. “If this goes off without a hitch, it will be a ray of hope for all sport in India. The teams and match officials wanted to resume so we didn’t have to do much convincing,” said Kushal Das, General Secretary of All India Football Federation (AIFF).
AIFF has taken every possible measure to protect the footballers and keep them safe. The organisation has created a bio bubble atmosphere near the Salt Lake stadium by booking nearly 95 rooms in a five-star hotel. Players, team staff, match officials and a photographer are part of the bubble that is in one wing of the hotel. Including hotel staff, over 1000 Covid-19 tests will be conducted. Das added that the final round is costing AIFF approximately Rs 1.5 crore, of which Rs 1 crore is being spent on the bubble alone.
This event will serve as a trial before the I-League which is also scheduled to be played in Bengal. “We decided to hold this in Kolkata because our learnings will help in conducting the I-League,” said Sunando Dhar, AIFF’s League CEO.
The opening match of the tournament will be played between Bhawanipore and Bengaluru United. Later in the day Mohammedan Sporting will take on Garhwal FC. With Mohun Bagan and East Bengal playing in the Indian Super League (ISL), Mohammedan can be the only football team from Bengal to play in the first division of I-League. The tournament will end on October 19, 2020.