I-League was on Wednesday suspended for at least a week after COVID-19 breached its bio-bubble as eight players and three officials have tested positive for the dreaded virus. Five players and three team officials from Real Kashmir FC, one player each from Mohammedan Sporting, debutants Sreenidi Deccan FC and Aizawl FC returned positive in the tests conducted on Tuesday. “The next round of matches (on December 30 and 31) will be rescheduled. We will review the situation on January 4,” I-League Chairman Subrata Dutta told PTI after an emergency meeting. The first round matches were played on Sunday and Monday while the third round games are scheduled for January 4 and 5.
Sreenidi, Mohammedan Sporting, NEROCA and Aizawl FC have matches scheduled for Thursday while RKFC have a game on Friday. All these second-round matches will now be played later.
No matches were scheduled for Wednesday.
According to All India Football Federation (AIFF) sources, the matches on January 4 are unlikely to be played but there is a possibility that January 5 games will be held if no further positive cases emerge.
All the players who have tested positive have already been isolated with AIFF monitoring and arranging for subsequent regular medical consultations, an I-League statement said.
The outbreak happened at the Novotel Hotel, one of the three bio-bubbles, set up by the organisers for the football League that began on Sunday.
Besides RKFC, Sreenidi Deccan and Mohammedan Sporting, the three other teams staying at the Novotel Hotel are Rajasthan United, Aizawl FC and NEROCA.
Dutta chaired the emergency virtual meeting of the League Committee to take a decision on continuation or suspension of the league.
“The Committee unanimously decided to postpone the Hero I-League 2021-22 matches for the next round which were scheduled on December 30-31, 2021,” the league statement said.
“The League will review the situation once all test results come in on January 4, 2022, and reach a consensus thereafter including the next round matches on Jan 4-5.” It said all the players, staff and referees have been tested on Wednesday. They will be tested again on January 1 and 3.
The I-League Committee said it took into serious consideration the advice of Dr Harsh Mahajan, a member of the AIFF Sports Medical Committee, “to adhere to medical parameters and move forward together without making any compromise on the health of the players which is of paramount importance.” “Dr. Mahajan, informed that there needs to be bare minimum contact among all for the next 5-7 days as studies indicate that both the Delta and Omicron variant can be passed onto other human bodies within the period.” Earlier in the day, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar had confirmed the COVID outbreak and said that the safety of the players and officials were of paramount importance.
Thirteen teams are competing in this year’s I-League across three venues — the Mohun Bagan Ground in Kolkata, the Kalyani Stadium at Kalyani and the Naihati Stadium at Naihati.
RKFC owner Sandeep Chattoo admitted some of his team’s players have tested positive, though he did not share how many and who.
“Yes, RKFC has also some positive cases, players from all (six) teams are suspected (of COVID-19),” he said.
“There was one round of tests on December 21 and all my players were negative. This latest tests were done yesterday.” All the players and officials were required to remain in quarantine for six days in their respective hotels after arrival from there bases. They were to be tested twice during those six days.
As per the protocols laid out for the league, anyone who tests positive will be isolated on different floors of the hotel and will have to have three consecutive negative test results before joining the team-mates.
Dhar had earlier said that all the players taking part in the I-League will have to be fully vaccinated except for U-18 players and those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 infection.
The U-18 players and those who have not got their jabs due to recent COVID-19 recovery will have to undergo more frequent testing during the tournament than the vaccinated players.
“If the fully vaccinated players are having tests for every 5-6 days, they (U-18 players and recently recovered players) will be tested every 3-4 days,” he had said.
Last season’s I-League, which was competed by 11 teams, was also held under bio-secure environment in Kolkata and Kalyani, and six COVID-19 cases were reported then.
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