New Delhi [India], January 8 (ANI): Since the inception of the I-League, there has never been a season as contrasting as 2020-21 which kicks-off on Saturday with Sudeva Delhi FC taking on Mohammedan SC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan.
There might never be a season like 2020-21 ever again, with its social distancing, bio bubbles, and health protocol. But one thing is for sure, domestic football is back and it promises to be as exciting as never before.
With three new debutants, 11 teams will fight for the title of champions over 160 matches. In a cauldron of hopes, ambitions, desires, and even some heartache, the I-League promises to be an action-package for the neutral.
Speaking at the virtual press meet ahead of the kick-off of the I-League, AIFF's General Secretary Kushal Das said, "There are unprecedented times and the fact that we are able to bring football back is a great effort from all stakeholders involved. We need to pat ourselves on the back to start a football league in India ahead of any other federation. I am looking forward to an entertaining and competitive league."
The qualifiers for the I-League in October 2020 was the first sports event to be organised in India during the COVID pandemic and with the I-League slated to kick-off later this week, the league committee has ensured that football stays undisturbed by the pandemic.
Sunando Dhar, CEO, AIFF League said, "A lot of planning was done to make the I-League qualifiers in 2020 a success and without a glitch. We had to adapt to different ground realities and behind the camera, there was a lot of work done. The organisation of the qualifiers gave us more confidence to organise the I-League. It is one of the biggest challenges we as a league will ever face."
"We had workshops with the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and we learned a lot daily when organising the qualifiers. However, the I-League is a huge challenge as it is a round-the-clock 24/7 operation and we have planned a lot for the season," he informed.
The 11 teams are being kept in two separate hotels in Kolkata with the match officials being kept in a third hotel. Three tests were done before the check-in of players and match officials into a seven-day quarantine. During the seven days, two more tests were conducted, and only after all the five negative COVID tests, could the players and officials go to train.
"The health of players and officials are of paramount importance to us. We cannot take any risk," Das informed.
Despite the pandemic, the I-League has always acted as a platform for young Indian talent. The trend seems even more promising to continue with the new season with new teams coming in. The champions of the I-League will get a spot in the AFC Cup group stages. (ANI)