Indian Football Association has decided to shortlist Real Kashmir as a late addition to the 123rd IFA Shield after I-League's new entrant Sudeva FC pulled out of the tournament, citing lack of bio-secure bubble as the reason behind it.
Earlier, Sudeva and four other I-League clubs confirmed their participation in the 12-team tournament — slated from December 6 across four venues in Kolkata — on IFA's invitation. Other three I-League clubs were namely Mohammedan Sportings, Indian Arrows and Gokulam Kerala along with eight top Calcutta Football League clubs. ISL club SC East Bengal were also interested to participate but the team failed to confirm their entry before the cut-off date last week.
Now, Sudeva have opted out saying they don't want to put their players at risk with no bio-secure bubble in place for the tournament.
"We have informed in writing to IFA that we can't participate as there is no bio-secure bubble for the tournament. We were really eager to participate in a historic tournament like IFA Shield but not at the risk of safety of our players," Sudeva co-owner Vijay Hakari told Indiatvnews.com. "Sudeva house not just an I-League team but various senior and junior division players as well. Even one getting infected means we are putting everyone at risk."
With I-League set to begin in January, the club is now on the look for friendly matches elsewhere to gain match fitness before their maiden league match.
IFA (WB) secretary Joydeep Mukherjee also confirmed that Real Kashmir will now play the tournament instead and added that Sudeva's last-minute demand for participation was unacceptable.
"After we released the draw for matches, Sudeva requested us for food and lodging arrangements. This took us by surprise because we clearly mentioned in our invitation that there won't be any bio-secure bubble in place for the tournament. So such request at the last-minute was unacceptable. After Sudeva decided not to come, we confirmed the participation of Real Kashmir, who were on standby," Mukherjee said.
Mukherjee stressed that a bio-secure bubble for a board like IFA is not possible given the high expenditure the federation will have to incur. He added that they still have taken enough measures to ensure the safety of their players, which includes COVID-19 insurance.
"As far as the safety of players is concerned, we are providing Rs 3 lakh insurance to every player participating so that they play with a free mind. Not to forget, every player and staff will be tested two days before the beginning of the tournament and on every fifth day of the tournament as well," he said.