The Indian Super League (ISL) clubs are ‘worried’ about the uncertainty over visas of more than 100 foreigners — players and coaching staff — even as they gradually enter the bubble in Goa to prepare for the upcoming season.
The ISL, scheduled to begin in the third week of November, will be the first sporting event with foreign players to be held in India since the pandemic began. The five-month-long season will be held in a bio-secure environment across three venues in the coastal state.
Ten teams have already started conducting mandatory Covid-19 RT-PCR tests on Indian players and most are likely to reach Goa in the coming week. But they will begin the pre-season without their foreign imports – managers as well as players.
As per rules, each team can have a maximum of seven foreign players in their squad. There are 10 sides in the league, although the number is set to increase by one given that East Bengal’s inclusion in the ISL is imminent. The manager of every team is also a foreigner and he will bring with him at least two members of the support staff.
“The league has been trying to help us and they are in touch with the government. We have also been speaking with the embassies and thankfully for us, a lot of our players are from one country – Spain. They need some sort of clearances from the government before they can issue visas,” FC Goa’s Director of Football Ravi Puskur said.
Since the government imposed the lockdown in March following the Covid-19 outbreak, several restrictions have been imposed on the issuance of visas. According to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) advisory, only a select bunch of professionals – which does not specify sportspersons – are currently permitted to enter the country.
ISL players and coaches require an employment visa and according to club officials, that can’t be obtained without the necessary clearances from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Barring a handful of players from Brazil and one from Fiji, the majority have not even been able to apply for a visa. “None of our foreign players are here because right now, the government is issuing visas only in special cases. We are in touch with the embassies and they have said they are waiting to hear from the MHA. The league is also trying to help with the situation,” Jamshedpur FC CEO Mukul Choudhari said.
It is learnt that efforts to get the required clearances have been going on for close to a month. However, with the government unlikely to make an exception specifically for footballers, there is no clarity when the visas will be issued, if at all.
“We have been following up with the league and are awaiting further information. Given that the league is likely to start in the third week of November, we would have liked to have our foreign players and coaches in India by now,” Bengaluru FC chief executive Mandar Tamhane said.
While the start of the league is still two months away, Puskur said a proper pre-season is crucial to ensure the players – who haven’t played since the lockdown began in March – do not get injured. If the visas are issued in the coming week, quarantine protocols and mandatory testing would mean the training can begin only by the third week of October. But that might not be enough.
“From a sporting perspective, a month-long pre-season isn’t sufficient. We are two weeks behind already. We would have liked our players here by September 15 because there are a lot of protocols to be followed, including the quarantine period,” Puskur said. “So by the time we finish all that, the boys will have around 25-30 days of training which is not enough, especially when players have been out of action for the best part of seven months.”
A proper pre-season assumes even more significance for FC Goa, who will become the first Indian club to play in the 2021 Asian Champions League, due to begin in February. “Our players will have to be conditioned accordingly as they will have to last longer. In an ideal scenario, we would have liked a 10-week pre-season. It looks like we will get a six-week pre-season but we are going pretty cut-to-cut at the moment,” Puskur said. “We are a little tense but the coach is trying to work out how we can adapt the best.”
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