Minerva looking for new venue to host AFC Cup games

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New Delhi, April 9 (IANS) The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has informed Minerva Punjab FC that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is willing to change the venue for the clubs home matches in the AFC Cup, but a decision has to be taken quickly.

This is in contrast to the Punjab team’s claim that the club could be suspended and fined heavily for not being able to host the matches at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium.

The local authorities cancelled the booking saying the stadium needed renovation for the proposed women’s under-17 World Cup.

“AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das has already spoken to AFC, which has no problem if an alternate venue is found, which meets the FIFA criteria. The federation has already informed the Minerva management about it,” an official told IANS.

“The whole idea about suspension and fine is absurd. In India, there are several venues which meet the FIFA criteria and perhaps do not even require inspection. It is up to the club authorities to book an alternate venue and inform AFC,” the official added.

The federation feels that since Minerva’s first home match is on May 1 against Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi, the club should be in a position to find another suitable venue. The other two matches are on June 19 (Chennaiyin FC) and June 26 (Abahani Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj said he has already started looking for alternative venues. “We are planning to speak to authorities in Goa, Kolkata and Guwahati where the stadiums are FIFA approved,” he said.

“There are other stadiums also, like in Delhi or Ahmedabad, but we cannot afford the rent. We would rather spend money on youth development than paying high rent,” he added.

Bajaj had earlier called the decision of the Odisha government to cancel the allotment of Kalinga Stadium a planned move to sabotage his team’s chances in the AFC Cup. He also alleged the decision was instigated by AIFF and its marketing partners, who wanted to show the Punjab outfit in poor light with the AFC.

Bajaj’s comments have evoked a strong reaction from the Odisha government, which has expressed its deep disappointment in a letter to the Minerva Punjab owner.

“In regard to the allegations of sabotage you have levied on us over social media platforms, they are completely baseless and unbecoming of an owner of a professional football club. I sincerely hope better sense prevails,” said Sumit Pandey, the officer on special duty (special project) in the Department of Sports and Youth Services, government of Odisha, in a letter to Bajaj.

Explaining the reasons behind the state government’s decision, Pandey said there was no ulterior motive behind not making the venue available for the AFC Cup games. The decision was influenced by the fact that FIFA does not approve a venue for the World Cup unless it has seen a significant amount of renovation work completed.

Since Kalinga Stadium has been shortlisted as one of the possible venues for the women’s under-17 World Cup it requires significant changes to adhere to the FIFA requirements, and the state government had no other option but to cancel the booking.

(Jaydeep Basu can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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