I-League CEO says maintenance of bio-secure bubble critical during new season

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is keeping no stone unturned to ensure smooth and safe conduct of the I-League starting here on Saturday, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic though the caseload in the country has gone down considerably in the past few days.

The AIFF has gained experience regarding the maintenance of bio-secure bubble during the I-League Qualifiers in October last though it was on a much smaller scale with just five teams competing.

The 11-team I-League will be played behind closed doors in four venues in Kolkata and Kalyani. Debutants Sudeva FC will take on newly-promoted Mohammedan Sporting at the Salt Lake Stadium here while Punjab FC face Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala FC go up against Chennai City FC at Kalyani Municipal Stadium in other two matches of the day.

“With the number of teams going up from five (during the Qualifiers) to 11 and the number of days from 25 to 100, the maintenance of the bio-bubble and co-ordination between the teams and organizers will be critical,” League CEO Sunando Dhar said.

“Cooperation from the participating sides is vital to maintain the bio-bubble and in order to ensure a successful event, all parties have to come together in a team effort and move forward together,” he added.

The rules and regulations for residing in the I-League bio-bubble. (AIFF)

The 11 teams have been put up in two 5-star hotels in Kolkata. Punjab FC, Indian Arrows, Chennai City FC, TRAU FC and Churchill Brothers FC are in one hotel, while Real Kashmir FC, Mohammedan SC, Gokulam Kerala FC, Aizawl FC, Sudeva Delhi FC and Neroca FC are housed in the second.

The teams began checking-in to their respective hotels and entering the bio-secure bubble from December 26 onwards, after which they immediately began their period of seven days of mandatory quarantine.

Prior to their check-in, each member of all the teams has to have three successive negative COVID-19 RT-PCR tests, the samples of which have to be taken ten, six and two days prior to them entering the bubble.

After checking in, the teams will be tested on the second and fifth day, followed by tests every 5-6 days and regular monitoring of body vitals.

Each team has been allocated 20 rooms in the hotel, with the addition of a separate medical/physio room for every side. For their quarantine, a comprehensive list of dos-and-don’ts has been given to each team as well.

An I-League staff sanitises the match-balls ahead of January 9 start. (AIFF)

The housekeeping staff attending to the rooms will also be a part of the same bio-bubble and will be tested on a regular basis every 3-4 days. Other support staff such as drivers, security personnel and hotel staff will also be tested regularly.

“Safety of all players and officials is our top-most priority and there can never be any compromises in that regard,” Dhar said.

In case of a positive test result for any team member, he or she will have to undergo a 17-day period of quarantine — either in the same hotel on a different floor, or in an outside facility.

In order to re-join the bubble, the person has to have two successive negative RT-PCR tests. However, if the individual was in isolation outside the hotel, he/she needs to undergo a compulsory 5-day quarantine in the hotel upon check-in for him/her to rejoin his team.