Minerva Punjab FC pulled out but refused to give up on points while East Bengal adopted a wait and watch approach towards its scheduled fixture after the Pulwama terror attack cast a shadow on their matches against Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar. Defending champions Minerva did not show up for their clash against a ready RKFC in Srinagar on Monday after asserting that the home club and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) failed in providing written security assurances.
East Bengal, on the other hand, conveyed their concerns about the February 28 match to the AIFF but refrained from making an outright pullout threat. Their clash against RKFC is the last scheduled I-League match in Srinagar. The AIFF, meanwhile, has referred the Minerva issue to its League Committee and maintained silence on East Bengal's concerns.
The entire sequence of events is a fallout of Thursday's attack in which at least 40 CRPF paramilitary troopers were killed while several others injured. It has been termed the deadliest terrorist strike in three decades in Jammu and Kashmir. Minerva claims it couldn't have travelled to Srinagar after its foreign players were specifically told by their respective embassies to avoid the J&K capital.
The club has refused to offer a forfeiture and has moved the Delhi High Court after the AIFF refused to relocate their match. "We have filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court, seeking relief so that we are not forced to play in Srinagar at this volatile time," Minerva Punjab FC owner Ranjit Bajaj told PTI.
"Even today there was a 12-hour encounter where four Armymen have been martyred. And they are saying 'come and play football here'. Unless the court intervenes, we are not expecting natural justice." Interestingly, the AIFF has also not declared the match a forfeiture till now. According to the FIFA guidelines, in the event of a forfeiture, full points are awarded to the team turning up for the game.
After the February 14 attack, East Bengal also wrote to the AIFF asking for a change in venue. "We have sent a letter to AIFF and we are awaiting the revert. Let them reply and then we will decide the next course of action," East Bengal CEO Sanjit Sen said.
"AIFF has to let us know when and where the match is going to be held. Once they let us know, we will decide our stance," he added. I-League CEO Sunando Dhar though said security was not an issue as the local authorities assured them of all the necessary arrangements.
"The local security authorities in Srinagar have given a go-ahead to hold the match. The AlFF has assured of all the necessary arrangements for players and officials by the local authority," Dhar said. He added that the "whole security arrangement of the players from the airport to the team hotel and from travelling from the hotel to the ground and return, everything was taken care of."
While Minerva Punjab are not in contention, East Bengal and Real Kashmir are both title contenders this season, and it remains to be seen what the AIFF does in the matter. Real Kashmir FC co-founders Sandeep Chattoo and Shamim Meraj expressed disappointment that Monday's match did not take place.
"It's very unfortunate that the match could not take place today at TRC, we had made all the necessary arrangements for the visiting team and had got the local authorities supporting us. Despite apprehensions, a lot of locals turned up for the match," the duo said in a joint statement.