Reports had claimed that the club would forfeit the game, but the club has released a statement saying that it had done no such thing
Holders Minerva Punjab FC had on Saturday requested the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to consider either deferring their I-League clash against title chasers Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar or shifting it to a neutral venue in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Pulwama. But the national body decided not to entertain any such requests, saying the match will go ahead as planned. As a result, many media reports had claimed that the club had forfeited the game, but the Punjab club on their part released a statement saying they had done no such thing, thus leading to a lot of confusion.
The Ludhiana-based club did say that it did not receive the security assurances it had sought from the AIFF following the attack on Thursday, which led to the death of 40 CRPF personnel. The incident has been termed as the deadliest terrorist strike in three decades in Jammu and Kashmir. “Considering the extraordinary circumstances following the Pulwama attack just 20Km from Srinagar Airport, the Ministry of Home affairs need to approve the football match being held. If the CRPF convoys are not safe, then we are very soft targets for such attacks,” the club stated.
Earlier, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar had noted that local security authorities in Srinagar had given the go-ahead to hold the match at the TRC Ground, adding that the AIFF had been assured of all necessary security arrangements for the players and officials by the local authorities. “Our officials are already in Srinagar in preparation of the match. I have spoken to the match commissioner and he told me that the situation in Srinagar is currently normal. The local security in-charge of the match has also assured full security to the players, officials and all those related to the match,” Dhar said on Saturday.
“We have been assured that the whole security arrangements of players’ transport from the airport to the team hotel and for travelling from the team hotel to the ground and return on match day will all be provided. So we have decided to go ahead with the match,” he added.
With Minerva then saying that it would not play the game in the strife-torn state, many media reports stated that the club had forfeited the game, thus handing the hosts three points. The reason for not playing in Kashmir was that the club’s foreign players had been advised by their respective countries’ embassies to pull out. “…we regret to inform you that this is not a risk that we are ready to take hence we shall not be travelling to the turbulent region,” the Punjab club noted to the AIFF in its letter.
As a result, league debutants Real Kashmir would have 35 points from 17 matches, with leaders Chennai City FC (34 points from 16 matches) to play Shillong Lajong on Sunday as well. “The AIFF wants to portray that the situation in Srinagar is normal but it is not normal there,” Miverva owner Ranji Bajaj was quoted as saying.
Minerva then released a statement on Sunday evening stating that they had not forfeited the game, and that they merely did not want to play in Srinagar under the prevailing circumstances. The club also threatened legal action if the match was declared as forfeited if they did not travel to the northernmost state.
Third-placed East Bengal (31 points from 15 matches), who also have to play against Real Kashmir on February 28, also got in touch with the AIFF after the attack, expressing similar security concerns. What happens regarding the Minerva-Kashmir game will get clearer over the next few days, which will also give an indication of the EB-Kashmir game’s future.