November 20 – Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan will kick off the 7th edition of the Indian Super League tonight, the first major sporting event on Indian soil since the coronavirus pandemic, behind closed doors and with strict health protocols.
For Indian football and Indian sports at large, the league will serve as the first sizeable test of staging a long competition in a bio-secure environment. The ISL matches will be staged without fans and the league has tried to create bio-bubbles with strict discipline for officials, players, staff and other personnel involved. They will be required to provide daily health updates via an app.
In August, the ISL decided to centralise this season’s matches in the state of Goa to reduce traveling and minimize the risk of exposure to the virus. The ISL’s eleven franchises are spread across the vast subcontinent with teams as far east as North East United in Guwahati, Assam. The Covid-19 pandemic compounded the already complicated logistics of the league.
Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan will get the league under way in the season’s curtain raiser. The Kolkata franchise are one of the latest additions to the ISL after the merger of last season’s ISL champions and I-League champions into a single club. Crosstown rivals East Bengal followed in Mohun Bagan’s footsteps and confirmed their presence in the ISL, but the exodus of the Kolkata giants has left the old I-League depleted.
East Bengal will be led by former Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, who previously coached Brisbane Roar in Australia. Next week, the two Kolkata franchises will meet in the first derby in the ISL.
The competition will run through to March, with the regular season followed by semi-finals and a final to crown the league champions. The winners of the regular season will qualify automatically for the Asian Champions League.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1606272353labto1606272353ofdlr1606272353owedi1606272353sni@o1606272353fni1606272353