A day after defending champions Minerva Punjab refused to travel to Srinagar for their I-League match against Real Kashmir citing security concerns following the Pulwama attacks, Kolkata heavyweights East Bengal appealed to the All India Football Federation to postpone their tie, scheduled to be held on February 28.
Unlike Minerva, though, East Bengal said they won’t defy the AIFF and will travel to Srinagar if they are ‘forced’ to. East Bengal and Real Kashmir are level on points after 16 matches and are firmly in contention for the title, along with leaders Chennai City.
Minerva were slated to face Kashmir on Monday. Following the terror attacks in Pulwama last Thursday, which claimed the lives of 40 soldiers, they urged the AIFF to either postpone the tie or shift it to a neutral venue. The AIFF, however, refused to do so, which resulted in the Punjab side moving the Delhi high court.
The case was to be heard on Tuesday but was adjourned to February 22.
Debabrata Sarkar, a senior club official, said they won’t drag the AIFF to court but hoped the match would be deferred on ‘humanitarian grounds’. “We are appealing to AIFF to consider this on humanitarian grounds. A team who is in the title race cannot play under such circumstances. We will not take any legal steps. If they force us, we will play in that case,” Sarkar said.
The match between Real Kashmir and East Bengal has already been postponed once. It was originally scheduled to be played on February 10 but was postponed following heavy snowfall in the valley. The tie is crucial for both teams, who are aiming to win their maiden I-League title.
Sarkar said their six foreign players and Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez have expressed concerns over travelling to Srinagar. “We are not here to fight with AIFF. We want to save football and footballers. If something happens to the players it will be a very bad advertisement for Indian football. But if AIFF forces us then we will try to convince our players to go. Our coach is a foreigner and we have six foreign players who have raised their concerns over playing there (in Srinagar).”
The AIFF has maintained they chose not to reschedule the matches after receiving necessary assurances from local security agencies. They have called for a League Committee meeting in New Delhi, most likely on February 25, to take a final call on the issue.
Bengaluru FC offer support
Even as East Bengal and Minerva raised concerns over their players’ safety, former champions Bengaluru FC offered to play an exhibition match against Real Kashmir in Srinagar to support the I-League debutants.
Real Kashmir thanked the ISL club and invited them in March for a friendly fixture, assuring the guests “the most electric football atmosphere”. Bengaluru FC owner Parth Jindal made his offer on social media on Tuesday.
“Dear @realkashmirfc we @bengalurufc are ready to come and play an exhibition match in Srinagar against youll whenever you invite us. We look forward to the opportunity of sharing this beautiful game in your beautiful state which is an integral part of our great country,” Jindal tweeted.
Dear @realkashmirfc we @bengalurufc are ready to come and play an exhibition match in Srinagar against youll whenever you invite us. We look forward to the opportunity of sharing this beautiful game in your beautiful state which is an integral part of our great country.
— Parth Jindal (@ParthJindal11) 19 February 2019
There was an immediate response from Real Kashmir.
Thank you @ParthJindal11 and @bengalurufc. Let’s do this. We and the people of Kashmir would be more than glad to host you. March? What say? We promise the most electric football atmosphere! Let’s play to heal. Let’s pray together for the departed and share the grief of bereaved. pic.twitter.com/x7YG2Jx7IT
— Real Kashmir FC (@realkashmirfc) 19 February 2019
“Thank you @ParthJindal11 and @bengalurufc. Let’s do this. We and the people of Kashmir would be more than glad to host you. March? What say? We promise the most electric football atmosphere! Let’s play to heal. Let’s pray together for the departed and share the grief of bereaved.” —with PTI inputs