Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday asked sports associations to defer all sporting events in the state till March 31 against the backdrop of the coronavirus.
“The situation is unnatural and we have to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, which spreads from person to person. I request all organisers to put all sporting events on hold till March 31 to avoid large-scale gatherings. We will take stock on March 30 before making any further decisions,” the chief minister said at a meeting with all the sports associations in the state.
Two matches of the I-League, including the East Bengal versus Mohun Bagan derby scheduled on March 15 at the Salt Lake Stadium, would be affected. East Bengal’s other home match, against Chennai City FC, is scheduled on March 22.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had earlier decided that all the remaining I-League matches would be held behind closed doors.
But Mamata said: “An empty stadium does not mean that there will be nobody…. I guess there will be at least 250 people, including officials, TV crews and coaching staff, barring the players.”
Mamata told Subrata Dutta, vice-president of the AIFF: “There will be no harm if the two matches are deferred till March 31. Talk to the AIFF president, Praful Patel, and try to convince him by explaining the geographical location of the state, which has three international borders.
Clubs like Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting wanted to complete their remaining matches in empty stadiums. East Bengal supported the decision to defer the derby.
Mohammedan Sporting have two 2nd Division I-League home matches on Tuesday and March 25. “Both matches will be cancelled,” said a club official.
The chief minister said: “Playing a football match before empty stands might not bring a strong response in Maharashtra, but it will in Bengal as football is a preferred sport here.'
Mamata had agreed to allow the India-South Africa One-day International at the Eden Gardens on March 18 after laying down several restrictions. News came during the meeting that the two ODIs remaining between the two teams had been called off.
Citing this, the chief minister asked the participants to accept the decision to defer all sporting events till March 31.
Chief secretary Rajiva Sinha confirmed that the government would take stock of the situation on March 30.