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A crushing blow to Bagan

- Banned till 2014-15, club says Indian football takes a step backward
Anjan Mitra faces the fans’ ire, at the club tent, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: Protests, road blockades, demands for immediate resignation of Anjan Mitra and Company… The Mohun Bagan Opera — so much so for the waiting television crew — continued till late in the Saturday evening at the club tent after the All India Football Federation (AIFF) handed a two-season ban from I-League on country’s premier football club.

The unprecedented decision — for many it was a bit harsh given the prestigious club’s rich history and huge fan following — was taken at the I-League Core Committee meeting, which also declared all of club’s matches in the “I-League Competition 2012-2013 cancelled and considered null and void”. The I-League will now be a 13-team affair.

Mohun Bagan had refused to play the second half of the I-League match against East Bengal on December 9. They were trailing 0-1, Syed Rahim Nabi was injured after he was hit by a brick hurled from the stands and captain Okolie Odafe was shown the red card.

“The I-League core committee received the detailed report dated 26th December 2012 of the Hon'ble Justice A K Ganguly relating to I-League Match No. 68 between Kingfisher East Bengal and McDowell Mohun Bagan (played at Salt Lake Stadium) on 9 December 2012,” the AIFF said in a statement.

“Justice Ganguly in his report has concluded that the decision of MMB for not playing the match after the interval cannot be supported on the grounds of Force Majeure and accordingly MMB has breached Regulation 22 of the I-League Regulation 2012-2013.

“The I-League Core Committee endorsed the decision of Justice A K Ganguly that MMB was in breach of I-League regulations and therefore in terms of regulation 22 (c) the mandatory and automatic impositions on MMB (i) of being considered to have withdrawn from the I-League Competition 2012-2013 (ii) to have all its matches in the I-League Competition 2012-2013 cancelled and considered null and void (all points, goals scored and goal against being taken away); (iii) being disqualified from taking part in the next two (2) editions of the I-League Competitions; (iv) to return to the I-League any financial stipends that had been paid to it by I-League throughout the Competition 2012-2013 or forfeit the right to the same, are hereby notified to have been imposed upon and effective with immediate effect,” the statement said.

“This decision opposes the football policy. It’s a step backward… We would request the AIFF to rethink and reassess,” club secretary Anjan Mitra told a crowded media conference. “We will go to the proper forum,” he added. “That day (December 9) anything could have happened. But I would not say this decision is unfair. It is unfortunate,” Mitra said.

Mitra hinted that Bagan may appeal to the AIFF executive committee — they reserve the right to appeal — to look into the matter again. They can also go to the court but that is very unlikely since it will complicate the matter more.

That’s something Bagan will never want at this point in time. Sources said executive committee may take a lenient view if Bagan appeal. “The ban can be reduced to only this season.,” the source revealed. “All is not lost for Bagan yet. It’s just that how they play their cards now.”

Bagan however, will be allowed to play in Federation Cup. The rule says that only I-League teams and clubs who have quailed for the main round of the second division I-League are eligible to play the Federation Cup. But since it’s an invitational tournament, Bagan will feature in the Federation Cups.

Mohun Bagan though also not get a direct entry to the I-League first division and will have to come through the second division. This will effectively means that the glamour club will lose four I-League seasons, including the current one (2012-13) in which they have played nine matches. They will have to play in the 2015-16 I-League second division to qualify for the 2016-17 top division.

The media statement added that the I-League core committee will meet again on January 9 to assess the quantum of compensation Mohun Bagan will pay to the stakeholders, including the I-League sponsors, for the losses suffered by them due to the abandoned match. So more trouble in store for the beleaguered club…

Now what about the players’ future? “The players are only bound to honour the contract of the club if they are ready to pay the full amount for the remaining part of their contracted tenure,” AIFF vice-president Subrata Dutta said.

Indeed, Bagan’s future is looking imperfect. And the club officials cannot pass the buck this time.