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No fans, games at single venue for ISL and I-League in tentative November restart

The ISL and the I-League will kick off following India's World Cup qualifiers in November, according to AIFF's tentative plan. Faheem Hussain / SPORTZPICS for ISL

India's 2020-21 domestic football season, including the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-league, will tentatively begin in November 2020, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) said on Monday. Both leagues will be held behind closed doors and all matches will take place at a single venue. The ISL is likely to be held in Goa, while the I-league will take place in Kolkata - as only a few venues offer multiple stadiums required to conduct the league. The final decision, though, is yet to be taken.

"The first priority is completing the [I-league] second division. We should hold it by mid-September to give the side getting promoted enough time for transfers, etc.," AIFF general secratary Kushal Das said during a webinar on Monday.

Camps for men's teams high priority

Das added that of equally high priority are the camps for the senior men's national team ahead of the World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) against Qatar, which had been rescheduled for October 8 and the camp for the U16 men's team (ahead of the AFC U16 Asian Cup) and the U17 women's team (ahead of the FIFA U17 Women's World Cup).

Das said that there is a FIFA fund being set up for covid-related expenses, and that while they have not specified guidelines on this yet, he believes it can be used for conducting tests on players/staff. There is a concern, though, with regards to conducting the WCQ. "International travel to and from India is likely to start by the 15th of July, but we don't know the quarantine rules yet. For instance, those coming back by the Vande flights have a two-week quarantine, and if that continues, it will be very hard to conduct international matches."

Youth leagues and baby leagues might be harder to conduct

Das also said, "Even without foreigners, the ISL and I-league should happen. That is my thinking, but of course, that needs to be cleared by more people." The baby-leagues and the youth-leagues, though, may be harder to conduct, he said, given the age of the participants. "This is much more sensitive [than the senior leagues], we need consent of parents, and we need to ensure all protocols are followed, which may not be possible for baby leagues. Those are done by private operators." He added that when the Youth Leagues (U13, U15, U18) get going, they would follow a similar single-venue, closed-doors model.

The camp for the U17 women's team is likely to be held in Goa or Jharkhand. "The CM [of Jharkhand] is very interested in the camp being held there. With govt. support, it is easier to manage covid-19 protocols. We plan to start the camps by the first week of August or latest by Aug 15. Hopefully Thomas [Dennerby, head coach U17 women's NT] will be able to fly in by then. Alex Ambrose (U15 girls head coach) and Precious Dede (goalkeeping coach) are in the country, so the camp will start regardless.

Senior men's team to camp in Bhubaneswar

The senior men's camp will be held in Bhubaneswar, as that is the venue of the WCQ, and the AIFF is in discussion with the Odisha government for the smooth conduct of the same. While coach Igor Stimac had earlier asked for a camp of minimum of six weeks, Das clarified that they were targeting a start in the third/fourth week of August. These camps will follow the protocols put forward by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), he said, adding that they have been reviewed by the AIFF's medical and technical teams and discussed with FIFA.