In the wake of the extension of nationwide lockdown till May 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) decided to call off the I-League season and declared Mohun Bagan the champion as they “stand atop current standings until the point of suspension (March 14)”. The governing body also opted for no relegation to second division.
With 23 matches still to be played when the global health crisis struck, the AIFF League Committee, General Secretary Kushal Das and I-League CEO Sunando Dhar summoned its members through a video conference and decided to not resume the league per advisories issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and directives from several State Governments.
Mohun Bagan had already clinched the title with four rounds left to be played with 39 points from 16 matches. There was a three-way race among East Bengal, Minerva Punjab (both on 23 points from 16 matches) and Real Kashmir (22 points from 15 matches) for the runners-up slot before the I-League was suspended. The league committee’s decisions have to be ratified by the AIFF executive committee.
“Firstly, I would like to congratulate Mohun Bagan for winning the I-League. However, you know that FIFA said that the league could be extended if needed. It did not say anything about paying the players extra or about a contract extension. So I am not sure why this wasn’t done (league extension),” Debabrata Sarkar, senior East Bengal official, was quoted by the press.
“We have been deprived of a chance of finishing second. We protest the AIFF’s decision and it hasn’t worked well for us. This has happened earlier too, many decisions have gone against us. It feels like a dictatorship. We will discuss over the next three days and see if we want to take this forward,” Debabrata added.
As champions, Mohun Bagan will bag Rs 1 crore, while the remaining purse of Rs 1.25 crore for the next three best-placed teams – Rs 60 lakh for runners-up, Rs 40 lakh for third place and Rs 25 lakh for fourth. As for the other 10 clubs, the League Committee “recommended the remaining prize money (apart from the champion’s prize money) be equally divided among the remaining 10 participating clubs”.
“As per regulations, only the top four clubs are eligible for prize money, but it would have unfair to freeze points position at this moment. If you look at the league standings, except for bottom-placed Indian Arrows, all teams could have made it to the top four, if they played the remaining games,” said one senior AIFF official who attended the meeting.
At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has infected 2 million people and killed nearly 17,000 worldwide. There are more than 17,000 cases in India with over 500 deaths recorded. Earlier, the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League, due to commence on March 29 and was earlier suspended till April 15, will totally miss the April-May deadline as it has been postponed further.
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