Defending I-League champions Minerva Punjab have asked the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to shift their upcoming match against Real Kashmir, scheduled to be played in Srinagar on February 18, following the Pulwama terrorist attack that killed over 40 CRPF paramilitary troopers on Thursday. If the match is not shifted or rescheduled, club president Ranjit Bajaj said his side would rather forfeit the match and concede three points.
"There are bodies still being picked up from the streets. By playing a match in Srinagar which is just about an hour's drive from where this attack took place, we would be giving the impression that everything is normal when that is not the case," Bajaj said.
Bajaj also cited security concerns of playing in Srinagar. "Right now we don't know what the security situation is like. There are curfews all over the state," he said.
Bajaj said that the nature of his team put them at particular risk. "My team jersey has the line 'We salute Indian Army' written on it and the flags of the Indian armed forces printed on it. Minerva is also famous for training Services Selection Board (SSB) aspirants, so we feel particularly threatened," he said.
He added that he would not be satisfied with a guarantee from the AIFF that it was safe to play the game in Srinagar. "I want a written confirmation by the Ministry of Home Affairs that it is safe to play a match in Srinagar," he said.
Teams travelling to Srinagar for I-league games have reportedly been provided two security vehicles and 15 security personnel, who travel with them at all times including at night when they are stationed outside their hotel.
With Minerva scheduled to fly out to Srinagar on Saturday, Bajaj says he is hoping the AIFF will reschedule the match. "The AIFF is telling me that they are trying to see what they can do but we are sticking to our ground. If we have to concede three points we will do that," he said.
Speaking to PTI, I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said they will consider the feedback from the local authorities in Srinagar."We will see what the local authorities have to say. We will go ahead with the match if the local authorities give us a positive feedback. As of now, it is on, and shifting remains the last resort," Dhar said.
If Minerva forfeit Monday's game, Real Kashmir will go to the top of the table with 35 points, although current leaders Chennai City have a match later on the same day. Minerva are currently third from bottom with 14 points, and will remain there if they forfeit.
The I-League had already rescheduled a match in Srinagar earlier this season when third placed East Bengal's game against Real Kashmir on February 10 was postponed to February 28 due to heavy snow. According to PTI, the Kolkata club have also got in touch with the AIFF after the attack, expressing similar security concerns.
(With additional inputs from PTI)