SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

Indian minnows Minerva back in business in AFC Cup after state re-opens stadium

April 12 – After a week of discontent I-League club Minerva Punjab FC have rescinded their decision to fold after they got permission from the local Odisha government to play their first AFC Cup home match in Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium on May 1.

A furious Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj (pictured) had initially announced that his club, I-League champions in 2017, were to fold over what he considered obstruction by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), but after negotiations with the Odisha local authorities the state will allow the club to play their AFC game against Nepalese club Manang Marshyangdi at the Kalinga Stadium. Previously local officials had said the stadium would not be available due to renovations ahead of the 2020 U-17 Women’s World Cup that India will stage.

“I explained the situation to them and informed them that we can change our stadium only 30 days prior to the game. They understood the situation and have awarded us permission to host our first game at the Kalinga Stadium,” Bajaj told local media.

The club still has to find a venue for their two other group games in the AFC Cup against Indian rivals Chennaiyin FC and Abahani Dhaka. Minerva is considering four stadiums for those two fixtures – Goa’s Bambolim Stadium, Pune’s Balewadi Stadium, Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium and Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.

In the 2017-18 season Minerva, a small club on the outskirts of Chandigarh, crafted one of the fairy tale stories of the Indian game by winning the I-League. They succeeded Aizawl FC from the northeast as champions, finishing three points ahead of Neroca FC in the table. The club has also been prolific in the youth department, having won all the age-group categories of the I-League (U-13, U-15 and U-18).

In the past their eccentric but committed owner Bajaj, who runs an army academy alongside the club operations, has lashed out at the AIFF over their partnership with Reliance and the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), who back the Indian Super League. The concurrent league was introduced in 2013 and based on the IPL cricket franchise model.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1556063559labto1556063559ofdlr1556063559owedi1556063559sni@o1556063559fni1556063559