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With I-League 2nd div final round, sport restarts in India

Written by corres2

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The fine for not wearing a mask in a common area is Rs 5000 per person per infringement. By 9 am, players and officials must submit a detailed health declaration and finish their daily check-up which includes body temperature and oxygen levels. A player can represent his club if he returns a minimum of four negative Covid-19 tests — only Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests, the gold standard for testing the novel coronavirus, is being used. A player testing negative will still be quarantined for six days if his roommate is Covid positive. Players can bring their gaming consoles even firesticks but gadgets, water bottles and bibs cannot be shared.

These are some of the protocols five teams must internalise before they start the final round of the I-League second division qualifiers, beginning in Kolkata and Kalyani on Thursday. This will be the first competitive sporting event in India since the hard lockdown in March.

“If this goes off without a hitch, it will be a ray of hope for all sport in India. The teams and match officials wanted to resume so we didn’t have to do much convincing. We also got a lot of help from the Bengal government, IFA (football’s Bengal unit) and SAI,” said Kushal Das, general secretary of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Tuesday. Das said the final round is costing AIFF approximately Rs 1.5 crore, more than double of what it would in pre-Covid times. Rs 1 crore is being spent on the bubble alone, he said.

At stake for Mohammedan Sporting, Bhawanipore FC, FC Bengaluru United, ARA FC and Garhwal FC is the chance to qualify to the top tier of the 2020-21 I-League, also scheduled in Kolkata later this year. Mohammedan Sporting, who signed sports management company Bunkerhill Private Limited as investor on Monday — the company, according to a club official, has promised Rs 2 crore for this and more if they qualify — have given players masks that say ‘Mission I-League.’ One team will be promoted to the first division.

“We decided to hold this in Kolkata because our learnings will help in conducting the I-League,” said Sunando Dhar, AIFF’s League CEO.

Having booked nearly 95 rooms in a five-star hotel, AIFF has created a bio-secure bubble near the Salt Lake stadium. Players, team staff, match officials even a photographer is part of the bubble that is in one wing of the hotel; its bank of lifts separated from the lobby by queue managers. A 14-day quarantine rule means a 12-day competition effectively becomes a month-long affair. As teams entered the bubble, AIFF drew up training schedules — two grounds in Salt Lake stadium and two more in the SAI Complex nearby have been booked — when they could use the gym, fixed meal timings at restaurants and told them how many pieces of laundry (5) could bill daily to the federation.

Dhar said the Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedure was made using elements from the K-League, Qatar Stars League, the Asian Champions League and inputs from a workshop conducted by the Asian Football Confederation. Including hotel staff, over 1000 Covid-19 tests will be conducted, he said. Till Tuesday, two players and one club official had tested positive and are isolating.

Das said unless the situation improves, it would be difficult to conduct youth and national competitions this season. There are far too many teams which makes it almost impossible to create a bubble, he said.

Life in a bubble in Kolkata

People involved in the competition divided into three groups. Group 1 includes players, coaching staff and selected AIFF ‘bio bubble’ staff. Group 2 includes hotel staff specifically designated to service the bio bubble area. Group 3 includes rest of the staff, including AIFF match operations staff, broadcast staff, medical team, other AIFF officials, etc.

Two negative RT-PCR test results required for each and every player or team official to be allowed into the bio bubble area.

Players and team staff admitted into the hotel 13 days prior to the club’s first match. Four days of quarantine for everyone after arrival, with pre-packed food served in respective rooms.

Every member in Group 1 has to undergo a mandatory health check-up every morning. The data is recorded into an app by designated AIFF staff.

Players and officials have to undergo regular tests, above and beyond the two RT-PCR tests conducted before arrival. The schedule of the tests after arrival is in the order as follows: arrival + third day, arrival + ninth day, arrival + 14th day, arrival + 19th day. Regular tests also for other members in Groups 1, 2 and 3. Those who test positive are to self-isolate in a separate restricted area.

Those found not wearing masks in common areas of the bio bubble – lift, rooms’ alley, testing area etc. – will be fined Rs. 5000 per person per instance.

Any person who exits the bio bubble area for any reason other than training, matches or medical emergencies, will be allowed to re-enter only after a thorough process that will include two RT-PCR negative test results with a gap of seven days, a quarantine of at least four days in a separate restricted area and another RT-PCR negative test result.

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