New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) In the wake of the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir, football club Minerva Punjab on Friday refused to play their I-League match against Real Kashmir FC in Srinagar on February 18.
I-League defending champions Minerva have requested the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to shift their match to another venue, preferably Delhi, in the wake of the deadly attack on Thursday that left 45 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers dead.
Minerva are scheduled to take on Real Kashmir at the TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar on Monday.
“We regret to inform you that due to current instability and volatility in the region, we request you to please defer the I-League fixture against Real Kashmir or have it held at a neutral venue,” Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj wrote in a letter to the AIFF.
“Minerva Punjab FC, as you know, is affiliated to Minerva Academy (Estd. 1955) which has been serving the Indian Armed Forces for the last 60 years.
“We wear a tribute to the Indian Armed Forces on our match jerseys. Needless to say, we stand in support with our Armed Forces, and cannot play a football match, where 42 (the toll has gone up to 45) of our brothers have been martyred.
“Additionally, there is the security threat which will be faced by us when and if we do travel for our match. Who will guarantee our safety? Ideally, there should be written assurances and permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs that the region is safe enough to conduct the match as scheduled and that our safety can be guaranteed.
“Considering the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, we hereby request you to please defer the I-League fixture against Real Kashmir till such time our safety is guaranteed by the authorities or have it held at a neutral venue,” the letter read.
“They (AIFF) verbally told us that the situation is under control but we haven’t got a reply yet,” Minerva Director Henna Bajaj told IANS.
Asked if the team would travel on AIFF insistence, she said: “Not likely as we stand in solidarity with our armed forces. When the whole nation is mourning their loss, how can we play football as if nothing has happened?”
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar said they will consider the feedback from the Srinagar authorities.
“We will go ahead with the match if the local authorities give us a positive feedback. We will have to check with them.”
Established in 1955, Minerva Academy is a premier training institute for SSB aspirants with over 60 years of experience.
Third-placed East Bengal, who are scheduled to be in the Kashmir Valley on February 28, have also got in touch with the AIFF after the attack, expressing similar security concerns.
The toll from Thursday’s terror attack rose to 45 as two more troopers succumbed to their injuries, officials said.
Meanwhile, there is also uncertainty over the other I-League encounter between East Bengal and Real Kashmir.
The match had been initially scheduled for February 10. But heavy snowfall rendered impaired ground conditions leading to the cancellation of the match in Srinagar. The match was rescheduled by the AIFF to February 28.
The terrorist attack has put a question mark over whether the match will be played in Srinagar or shifted to another venue.
East Bengal have a genuine concern as they have a foreign coach and assistant and also a few foreign players. Therefore, immediately after the Shillong Lajong match, East Bengal officials contacted the AIFF officials.
A source in the Federation told IANS that the State Football Federation and the club (Real Kashmir) has assured the AIFF that the situation will be under control by the time the match is played.
In the worst ever terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir since militancy erupted in 1989, a suicide bomber on Thursday rammed his SUV packed with explosives into a CRPF bus on the Jammu-Srinagar highway in Pulwama, killing at least 45 troopers, injuring 38 and leaving the security establishment stunned.