The All India Football Federation (AIFF) have decided to conduct I-League 2020-21 season at a centralised venue as part of its measure to deal with the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Given that the Indian Football Association (IFA) - the governing body of football in West Bengal - have agreed to host all the I-League matches of the upcoming season, several clubs have expressed their support of the decision while some are apprehensive.
Although it is not confirmed yet when the season will start, it is expected to be commence between December 2020 and January 2021. It has been ascertained that five to six venues in the state are believed to be ready to host the matches. However, the Salt Lake stadium is not in contention as it is one of the venues for the 2020 U17 Women's World Cup which starts in February 2021.
"We are ready to play in Kolkata. We have no problem. The home advantage will not be there. But again, it will be played in empty stadiums. Gate collection would have suffered anyway, even if it was played in Manipur. So we don't have any issue playing in Kolkata," NEROCA secretary Manimohan Moirangthem to Goal.
Chennai City and Gokulam Kerala have also deemed it a positive move but sought more clarity in order to plan their campaigns, especially with regard to the summer transfer window of August 1st to October 20th.
Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh stated, "It's good that we are having it in one place. If you take the logistics into consideration, it is a positive step to have it in one location but then you have to see with regards to the flights and all. Each state is different. Some places are under complete lockdown. It all depends on how the situation evolves over the next couple of months."
Gokulam Kerala, having clinched the 2019 Durand Cup tournament in West Bengal, feel that Kolkata is an ideal place to hold the I-League. However, they want the AIFF to support them when it comes to accommodation arrangements.
"So far, we have not heard anything officially. Kolkata is okay (as a venue). We played the Durand Cup over there and since we started from the group stage we were there for nearly a month. The only thing is, if we have it there, it should be at least for a three-month period. So we don't know how the AIFF is going to support us with the accommodation and all that because staying in a hotel will be a huge deal (expense) for us," Gokulam Kerala President VC Praveen said.
"The earlier the I-League starts, the better for us. We are signing a player for four or five months without clarity and if the I-League is going to get over in less than three months' time, then we should see to it that we have another tournament or something," he continued.
"We have finished our Indian signings. We have Ronald Singh, Roshan Singh, Zodingliana Ralte and three local players. As for the foreign signings, we have to know when the league is starting. Since the transfer window is open till October 20th, we can probably wait because more players will be available also by then."
Meanwhile, representatives of Churchill Brothers and Aizawl FC have communicated their apprehensions about such a move.
"Right now, these are unprecedented times. We have to see to the safety of the players," Valanka Alemao, CEO of the Red Machines, indicated. "Right now, in Kolkata, the infection rate is very high. I'm sure the federation will take care of the safety aspect but you cannot say at this time how it is all going to work out. I have heard that just two hotels will accommodate all the players but if you ask me, I think till the pandemic is in control, I cannot imagine what it's going to be like.
"And it's a different state for all of us. In my region I will be able to take care of my people, but over there I will not know how. Everybody is scared to even get into a flight right now. So I understand that, that's why they want it at one venue but I am not able to have that vision of how it is going to be over there as it is said that India is going to peak in November," she aired her fears.
Aizawl FC owner Robert Royte was also concerned about the expenditure the club might incur in such a scenario.
"It depends on the support from the AIl India Football Federation for conducting the league at venue. We will be losing the home support and we have no information regarding the ticketing system. Extra expenditure will be there. At this stage, I cannot comment further until I have more details.
"We are yet to start our season. Usually, the Mizoram Premier League precedes the I-League every year but we cannot have it (yet) this year. Group training is also not allowed because of the Covid-19 situation."
Real Kashmir are also seeking subsidies from the Indian FA in case the I-League ends up being held in West Bengal.
"We will definitely approach AIFF for some subsidy. We have already wasted a lot of money in the previous season with bookings and cancellations of all sorts. Definitely, we can't blame anybody for that. The cost is going to be very high as the team will be staying in a hotel in a new city," Real Kashmir owner Sandeep Chattoo said.
"Moreover, food might be an issue. When you are staying away from Kashmir for such a long time it will have its effects on the team, apart from the fact that it is going to be very expensive. The pandemic will affect the sponsorship revenues as well. But the show must go on."