NEW DELHI: The I-League will start in the first week of January and not in December, after the West Bengal government asked the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to postpone the start of the tournament. It will be held in three or four venues in and around Kolkata.
The second tier of Indian football has been postponed a couple of times now. Initially, it was scheduled in November but the clubs asked AIFF to reschedule it in December due to concerns over player recruitment. Now, the West Bengal government has asked for a further delay citing festive rush during Christmas and New Year.
Also keeping in mind rising COVID-19 cases, the new season is set to witness a new format, on the lines of what is seen in the Chinese Super League. Each team, instead of facing the other twice, will play once against each other. The top six will feature in the championship round, while the bottom five will fight to stave off relegation in another mini group.
"This will see a reduction in the number of matches. This proposal was discussed with all 11 teams and they were happy with the rejig," I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told this daily.
While the qualifiers went off without a hitch, the I-League is set to be a longer and more complicated affair. AIFF officials will be in Kolkata after Diwali to finalise the number of hotels required for safe accommodation of 11 sides and the number of stadiums.
"We used two stadiums during the qualifiers and this time a minimum of three will be needed. A fourth might be added so that matches can be held concurrently. All these along with the number of hotels should be decided after we visit the city," Dhar added.
A safety app on the lines of the one used in IPL might be used to track the movement of players and officials. Salt Lake Stadium, Kalyani Stadium and Barasat Stadium are set to host matches.
The AIFF drew praise for the successful staging of the qualifiers. The Cricket Association of Bengal enquired about the bio-bubble for tournaments it wants to conduct. "CAB officials visited us and asked how the bubble was made. They wanted details as they are planning a club-based T20 tournament and we shared our expertise. It was a good moment, as the hard work we put in got recognised. We now hope to organise a foolproof I-League," said Dhar.