With the return of football in India last week through the I-League qualifiers, even the referees and match officials have started adjusting to the “new normal” on the pitch along with the players.
The qualifiers consist of five teams, namely Garhwal FC, ARA FC, Bhawanipore FC, Mohammedan SC, and FC Bengaluru United, and all of them have taken their own steps to adapt to the new healthy safety regulations.
The referees, on the other hand, are also keen on “moving forward together” with the COVID-safety guidelines that have been put in place for the tournament.
“This is a unique experience for us all. We are proud to be a part of the tournament that has brought football back, in fact, bring sports back in India. All are ready to accept the COVID safety regulations and move forward together,” Santhosh Kumar, an I-League referee, told AIFF.
L Ajit Kumar Meetei, who was awarded the AIFF Best Referee for the 2019/20 season explained his pre-match routine during the times of the “new normal”.
“The pre-match preparations have changed. Before, we would go out and check things like the goalposts, corner flags, goal nets,” Meetei told AIFF. “But now due to the sanitisation procedures, we cannot go out for these checks unless it is safe for us to come out and conduct these checks.”
“Due to the new SoPs, we would call the players up to the technical area to check their equipment. We would not be able to maintain social distancing in the dressing room. So now, we have to do this on the field of play in order to maintain ample distance.”
“Before kick-off, we have the team line-ups and the team photos which of course need to be conducted keeping in mind the social distancing norms,” he added.
Kumar also underlined how important fitness is for a referee and how it’s even more relevant now considering football was halted for nearly eight months.
“Fitness is one of the most important things for us. It was indeed a challenge to maintain our fitness during the lockdown when we could not go out and train,” said Kumar.
“We as referees have to keep up with the players’ pace in order to be in the right position to make the right calls. If we are not at the same level of fitness as these guys, we would not be able to keep up,” he added. “The teams get two extra substitutions to deal with fatigue, but we get no such thing. In a way, we have to be fitter than the players.”
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