Great effort on to bring football back, says AIFF general secretary Kushal Das
With three new debutants, 11 teams will fight for the title of champions over 160 matches.
Since the inception of the Hero I-League, there has never been a season as contrasting as 2020-21 which kicks-off on January 9, 2021, with Sudeva Delhi FC taking on Mohammedan SC at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in the backdrops of Covid-19 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 Hero I-League promises to be an action-package for the neutral.
Speaking at the virtual press meet ahead of the kick-off of the Hero I-League, AIFF 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,” he added.
The Qualifiers for the Hero I-League in October 2020 was the first sports event to be organized in India during the COVID pandemic and with the Hero 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 Hero 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 organization of the qualifiers gave us more confidence to organize the Hero 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 organizing the qualifiers. However, the Hero 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 Hero 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 Hero I-League will never lose its relevance. We are on a right track to structure Indian football and the Hero I-League has given a platform to a lot of young Indian talent. Indian football is on the rise and with that, the standard of the Hero I-League will also rise,” Das said.
Furthermore, Das added, “The Hero I-League has a nationwide impact on football in India. There are clubs from different parts of the nation and that gives us a unique opportunity for young talent in that area a chance to aspire. It gives them a platform to showcase talent.”
“The Hero I-League provides for a huge opportunity not just for players, but also for match officials and coaches involved. With new teams coming in, we have exciting times on our hands,” Das informed. (AIFF Media Team)