NEW DELHI: The All India Football Federation's league committee decided Saturday that the "2019-20 season be deemed to be concluded" and that Mohun Bagan would be officially declared as the champions.that the club, with
The decision, which was in any case a foregone conclusion in the wake of the extension of the coronavirus-forced nation-wide lockdown till 3 May announced last Tuesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, means that the 28 matches of the I-League remaining to be played stand cancelled.
Declaring Mohun Bagan as the Hero I-League champion for the 2019-20 season was the most straightforward decision the committee had to make. As not only did The Mariners stand atop the current standings at the the point of the league's suspension on March 14, but also that with 39 points from 16 matches, the club enjoyed an insurmountable points difference even if all the remaining 28 matches had been played and concluded as a normal course of action.
The committee also recommended that there be no relegation from the I-League for the 2019-20 season. It bears noting that at the time the league was suspended, Indian Arrows, the developmental side of the AIFF, were at the bottom of the 11-team heap, while Neroca (19 points from 17 matches) and Aizawl FC (16 points from 15 matches) were at ninth and 10th, respectively.
For the record, Indian Arrows cannot be relegated so the development comes as a relief for Aizawl FC in particular.
Following the league committee's decision, Mohun Bagan posted on its official Twitter handle: "We sincerely thank AIFF League committee and @ChennaiCityFC,@minervapunjabfc, @Churchill_Goa,@GokulamKeralaFC,@NerocaFC,@officialtraufc,@AizawlFC,@realkashmirfc for showing exemplary sportsman spirit to formally acknowledge Mohun Bagan as deserving champions of I-League 2019-20"
Bagan's traditional rivals East Bengal was not happy with the turn of events however. The Red & Gold Brigade, which was in a three-way race with Punjab FC (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, registered its protest to the media.
"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, told Sportstar.
"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," Sarkar further told the sports magazine on Saturday.
East Bengal's protests notwithstanding, the league committee, recognising the COVID-19 global pandemic "as a force majeure event of unique and unprecedented circumstances", recommended the following other measures to the AIFF executive committee, the final decision making authority of India's football governing body:
1. With regards to the remaining clubs, and noting the concerns expressed by many of them in writing, the league committee recommended the remaining prize money (apart from the champion’s prize money) be equally divided among the remaining 10 participating clubs.
2. In reference to the Hero 2nd Division, the committee waits for approval over regulatory matters from the AIFF Executive Committee and the Asian Football Confederation to understand the feasibility of organising a shorter duration tournament next season for qualification to the Hero I-League 2020-21.
3. Meanwhile, with nearly 500 matches yet to completed in various youth leagues, the committee felt it would be an injustice for kids and youth players to be compromising with social distancing, and hence, recommended to stand by the conclusion of all youth leagues in the current season – the Hero sub-junior League, the Hero Junior League, the Hero Elite League, and the U-17 Khelo India Girls League – and start afresh from 2020-21 season.
4. Understanding the current crisis, the committee felt it needed to be flexible as per AIFF Academy Accreditation is concerned - as the primary objective is to increase participation of clubs and players. Hence, the committee recommended for an extension of the deadline for submission of the requisite documentation after the ongoing lockdown is revoked.
AIFF senior vice president Subrata Dutta chaired the meeting, which was also attended by general secretary Kushal Das and I-League CEO Sunando Dhar, among others.
Lockdown extension ends India's 2019-2020 football season