Updated: September 5, 2020 7:48:15 pm
In the year it is celebrating its centenary, East Bengal Club was struggling without a sponsor, Now, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has intervened personally to help it secure an investor, Shree Cement. While it lifts East Bengal, the intervention could potentially also bring the Chief Minister political rewards in the 2021 Assembly elections.
What have elections got to do with an investment?
On the face of it, East Bengal getting an investor is not directly connected to politics. Then again, as an East Bengal official observed, football is part of Bengali culture. The Chief Minister helping the red-and-gold team rope in an investor — in the process paving the way for them to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) — can strike a chord with East Bengal fans.
In which part of the state can this make an impact?
By a rough estimate, East Bengal have around three crore fans, a big chunk of them based in North Bengal. Football-wise, North Bengal became an East Bengal stronghold after Partition, followed by the 1971 Bangladesh War. A huge number of migrants came and settled in North Bengal.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Mamata’s Trinamool Congress was routed in North Bengal, failing to win a single seat out of eight. Seven of the eight seats went to the growing BJP, and Congress won the eighth. North Bengal has 56 Assembly constituencies, a crucial chunk of the 294 in the state.
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Can there be an impact in areas outside of North Bengal?
Mamata’s initiative can, in fact, win her the goodwill of East Bengal fans beyond North Bengal. In the Ghoti-vs-Bangal (West vs East) divide of Bengal football, East Bengal have a bigger chunk of rural-based supporters. Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, have more urban fans, and a lot of them are now settled outside their home state.
Why were East Bengal struggling?
In July 2018, East Bengal went into a partnership with Quess Corp, selling it a 70% stake. As the club’s assistant general secretary Dr Shanti Ranjan Dasgupta said, Quess had inserted a clause that if East Bengal did not play the Indian Super League within three years, the partnership would be terminated. But in autumn 2019 itself, Quess wrote to the club management saying it would not be continuing beyond May 31, 2020.
Without a sponsor, the club was on the brink. The operating expenses for a club/franchise to play in the ISL are in excess of Rs 40 crore per season, including a Rs 15 crore franchise fee. But let alone the ISL, East Bengal would have struggled to play in the I-League too. The annual I-League budget for a top team like East Bengal is in excess of Rs 12 crore.
After the departure of Quess, the club had been finding it difficult to meet day-to-day expenses. Basic monthly expenditure for East Bengal is close to Rs 50 lakh including staff payment and the upkeep of their academies and football school. For the last three months, officials had been paying out of their own pocket.
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What led to the CM’s initiative?
Mohun Bagan merged with ATK earlier this year, which paved the way for their playing in the ISL. With East Bengal stuck in the I-League for want of a sponsor, it was an affront to many East Bengal fans to see arch rivals Mohun Bagan playing in the Super League.
East Bengal officials approached Mamata, who promised help. Now that East Bengal are likely on par with their arch rivals — in terms of playing in the ISL — red-and-gold officials and supporters are expressing their gratitude to the CM.
How have fans reacted?
After Mamata announced East Bengal’s tie-up with the new investor at the state secretariat on Wednesday, TV cameras captured some red-and-gold fans outside the club tent. “Joy East Bengal, joy Mamata Banerjee (victory to East Bengal, victory to Mamata Banerjee),” they chanted.
Beyond East Bengal, the Chief Minister has been extending support to various sporting organisations since she assumed office in 2011. Last year, Mamata sanctioned Rs 2 lakh each to 4,300 clubs and announced financial aid of Rs 1 lakh each for 221 sports coaching centres. She also announced that the clubs would be eligible to get “financial assistance” for the next three years if they “submit their annual audit report”.
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