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I-League clubs not averse to playing in Kashmir

Sayan Mukherjee

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Real Kashmir1
The TRC Ground in Srinagar has been packed in most of Real Kashmir's I-League matches last season. Photo: @Twitter

New Delhi: I-League clubs are willing to brave security concerns arising from a communication lockdown and associated political tension to play in Kashmir.

In an All India Football Federation (AIFF) chaired meeting in New Delhi on Thursday, no I-League club expressed any reservations to travel to Srinagar, Sports Lounge can reveal.

The AIFF has roped in DSport as the league’s broadcast partners for the next three years. The AIFF are yet to release the official match list of the I-League, beginning on November 30.

A provisional list of fixtures has been drawn, which has allocated three matches at TRC Ground, Real Kashmir’s home venue in Srinagar.

As per the list, RKFC will host Gokulam Kerala FC on December 12, Churchill Brothers on 15th and defending champs Chennai City FC on 26th).

Tense political climate could be a hindrance for RKFC to host their home games in Srinagar. Last season, Minerva Punjab FC, now known as Punjab FC, refused to travel to Srinagar after the Pulwama attack.

Coping in the cold and snow of Srinagar is a difficult proposition for travelling teams that RKFC have exploited considerably last season.

“No I-League clubs have raised any objection to play in Srinagar citing security concerns,” I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told SL.

Last season’s second runners-up Real Kashmir are confident that despite the trials and tribunals the people of Kashmir have faced since the abrogation of Article 370, they would support their local team by filling up the 15,000 capacity ground.

RKFC co-owner Sandeep Chattoo is hopeful of conducting matches without any untoward incident. All seats of the 15,000- capacity TRC Ground were occupied in most of RKFC’s home games last season.

“We anticipate more fans to turn up this season. A scenario may arise that we have to cut down on the number of fans in the ground this time to avoid chaos. The problem could be managing of fans in the stadium,” Chattoo has said.

A delay in unveiling of Indian football’s roadmap coupled with a hold-up in I-League’s commencement and finalising of broadcast partner meant the I-League would begin no sooner than Nov 30.

Despite the delay and the diminished status of the league, clubs believe the new broadcast deal is an encouraging development in their fight for sustenance.

“Without the broadcast deal, every club apart from Mohun Bagan and East Bengal would have died,” an I-League club said.

The deal provides exclusive rights for on-air and digital content to DSport, which the channel can cash in on, the clubs believe. Each match will be beamed through eight cameras, up from three used for by AIFF’s marketing partners last season.

“The quality of telecast is expected to improve as they would use HD, replay cameras and other high-tech equipments,” the official said, adding: “The I-League is their sole property now. They have got the product without any inheritance fee.”

AIFF’s communique said its marketing partners will also contribute partly to production cost of matches. SL understands that the cost to telecast 110 matches would be around Rs 2 crore, out of which AIFF’s marketing partners would shell out Rs 1 crore, while the rest would be equally shared by the AIFF (Rs 50 lakh) and the clubs (Rs 50 lakh).

For the past two seasons, AIFF’s broadcast partners have showcased the league. But this time they demanded Rs 7 crore to cover production cost, which was to be divided among AIFF’s marketing partners (Rs 3.5 crore), AIFF (Rs 1.5 crore) and clubs (Rs 2 crore).

It is then the AIFF invited I-League clubs to arrange for their own broadcast deals, which allowed DSport to enter the fray.

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