India suspends I-League as covid-bubble bursts

January 4 – India’s second-tier I-League has been suspended for six weeks at least, after a new coronavirus outbreak among some teams.

The governing body the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was forced to suspend the league after the number of infections rose to 45 in the I-League bubble after the latest round of tests. Officials will reassess the situation at the start of February.

Last week, eight players and three officials had tested positive and the league was suspended for a week. Five players and three team officials from Real Kashmir FC, one player each from Mohammedan Sporting, debutants Sreenidi Deccan FC and Aizawl FC had returned a positive result, but a new round of tests revealed that the I-League bubble has been thoroughly pierced.

“Dr. Mahajan informed the clubs that with the number of positive cases rising all over the country exponentially, the new covid norms and restrictions being implemented by the Government of West Bengal, and with the philosophy of AIFF not allowing any compromise with the health and safety of the players and officials, it’s prudent that the Hero I-League 2021-22 be postponed by at least 6 weeks, a fact which was corroborated by all the participating clubs in the meeting,” read a statement from the AIFF.

“The clubs also unanimously appreciated the efforts taken by the AIFF to give paramount importance to the health of the players and officials.”

“The omicron variant spreads very fast but also comes down very rapidly. We also need to take into account and consider the government regulations and policies,” said Dr Mahajan.

This season’s I-League is being staged in West Bengal with Mohun Bagan Ground in Kolkata, the Kalyani Stadium at Kalyani and the Naihati Stadium at Naihati serving as venues. The centralization of the league was an attempt at minimizing the risk of Covid-19 infections. Last season’s league format was also maintained with each of the 13 clubs, including newcomers Krenke FC and Rajasthan United FC, facing each other once in the first leg of the league before they are divided into two groups.

One round of matches has been completed so far.  The league is scheduled to finish in April.

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