The odds are heavily stacked against East Bengal with regards to their participation in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season. It is learnt that Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which runs the tournament, has taken a decision not to float tenders to invite new clubs to the ISL fold this term.
Sources said the decision has been conveyed to 10 ISL clubs during a meeting on Friday. With the organisers keen to put out the ISL schedule for the 2021-22 season by August 31, East Bengal’s progression from the I-League to the ISL – the latter being the top tier – hangs in a limbo. The Kolkata giants are without any title sponsor/investor following Quess’ departure.
“It is physically not possible to incorporate a new team this season because of the coronavirus-induced situation. The ISL will be played in one or two venues this year and the whole logistics will have to be taken into account,” said an ISL stakeholder. “Keeping the (media) buzz about East Bengal’s impending arrival at arm’s length, there was never any plan to bring in an extra team this season,” he added.
According to a top All India Football Federation official, East Bengal have less than a month to find a sponsor/investor, go through the (procedural) formalities and join the ISL fold. “They have a race against time, because once the schedule is out, you can’t have a new team,” the official told this paper.
Asked about the uncertainty, East Bengal general secretary Kalyan Majumdar told The Indian Express: “You have a right to dream, but not always will your dream come true. And if we look at the current situation, chances of organising any sport in our country this year appear bleak. Even the IPL is moving out to the UAE. So I’m not reading too much into all this. Also, I have my doubts if sponsors would be keen to invest if we play matches behind closed doors here like Europe. And I don’t know if we can emulate the European football leagues and create a bio-secure bubble here. Social realities are different.”
Annual expenditure for an ISL club is in excess of Rs 40 crore including Rs 15 crore franchise fee. A bank guarantee is required for a new club, which, though, is flexible. In 2018, Quess Corp became East Bengal’s title sponsor after acquiring 68 per cent stake, but the two now have parted ways and although East Bengal have regained the sporting rights, the club is going through serious financial hardship and is desperately looking for a new sponsor. Some club functionaries are still very hopeful of playing in the ISL this season. They have reportedly even approached political heavyweights for help. But according to an ISL stakeholder, the way the league functions, “this (political intervention) is not a feasible option”.
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