The All India Football Federation had to cancel an I-League Second Division tie hours before the scheduled start on Sunday. Uncertainty looms large on the I-League game to be played later this week in Srinagar between hosts Real Kashmir Football Club and East Bengal.
The security forces have told the All India Football Federation the it is not safe to host games in the Valley amidst heightened tension.
Last week Minerva Punjab had declined to travel to Sri Nagar for the I-League game in Srinagar, resulting in a walkover with a 3-0 verdict in favour of hosts Real Kashmir FC. Minerva Punjab since were considering various operations to lodge their protest, including the legal route. The latest Army verdict will help their stand even as Real Kashmir FC players have been and practice in the Valley.
East Bengal, too, were not ready to visit Sri Nagar for their league match.
Now the letter from the Army will further strengthen their stand. While the AIFF will be looking for an alternate venue, Real Kashmir will lose precious home advantage, not in terms of gate money and sponsorships but also in terms of the morale support. The Sri Nagar FC on their I-League debut have emerged as one of the top three title contenders.
The Lonestar Kashmir FC and TRC at the Football Ground in Srinagar on Sunday was called off as the organisers did not want to make their next move in a haste after the organisers were told by security forces that it was too much of a risk to go ahead with match.
“The teams were in Srinagar. They were at the hotel itself when the message was communicated to them. They didn’t step out. The security situation became slightly problematic in the morning,” Times of India has quoted I-League CEO Sunando Dhar as saying.
Since Saturday, Jammu and Kashmir police have started to crack down on separatist groups and are reported to have made 150 arrests. A Jammu and Kashmir Police DSP and several policemen have been martyred in a fresh encounter with the ultras. After the deadly Pulwama terror attack that left 44 CRPF personnel dead, the presence of paramilitary forces in the State has increased.
“There was a call for a shutdown in the valley on Sunday. The restrictions imposed on movement to maintain law and order made it difficult to move, forget about playing football. The situation is tense,” said another official.
The AIFF’s decision to postpone the clash due to security concerns may help Minerva Punjab’s cause after the I-League champions refused to travel to Srinagar due to concerns over their safety last week. The AIFF did not postpone the clash and its league committee will decide on the outcome on Monday.
“Unlike the previous game (Real Kashmir vs Minerva Punjab in the I-League), the security agencies did not give us the go ahead today (for the Second Division clash),” said Dhar.
The committee will also decide if it’s safe for East Bengal to travel to Srinagar later this week for a clash.