New Delhi: The fourth edition of the Indian Women's League (IWL) is slated for a start on January 24 in Bengaluru but defending champions Sethu FC are yet to complete the Tamil Nadu State League and with the convergence of All-India Inter-University tournament and Khelo India Games, they are now in danger of missing out on defending their title.
The All India Football Federation has made no official announcement but the IWL is most likely starting in the third week of January, the duration of which will be 22-25 days. However, the problem that is cropping up for Sethu FC is that because of the state league's break for Inter-University Games, they cannot finish their last two games before January 20th and are not sure whether they are going to be considered for the tournament.
Sethu FC owner Seeni Mohaideen, who is also chairman of the women's committee of the Tamil Nadu Football Association, told News18.com that they are not even aware if the team will be included for the IWL and that "everything is a question mark at the moment."
AIFF, on the other hand, has thrown in the question on the timing of the Tamil Nadu Women's League.
"The AIFF Women's department announced the women's league qualifiers in July. Why has Tamil Nadu not started the qualifiers earlier like all other states?" Anjali Shah, honourary member of AIFF Women's Committee, responded to News18.com.
We are still awaiting a response from I-League CEO Sunando Dhar and the story will be updated if and when he responds.
The Tamil Nadu Women's League started on December 19 with seven teams -- Minerva FC, FC Thamizhachi, Football Plus, Sethu FA, Wow Women, Tamil Nadu Police and Sethu FC -- and after the completion of four matchdays, Sethu FC are the clear leaders of the league. However, the criteria that AIFF sent for the state league was that each team has to play at least six matches for consideration and the matches are supposed to take place with a gap of three days. That is where the matter is getting stuck for the defending champions.
The Tamil Nadu Women's League has had to take a break due to All-India Inter-University tournament, which is taking place from January 7-12 in Odisha and where three Tamil Nadu teams - Annamalai University, Madras University and Madurai Kamarajar University - are participating.
"The girls who play for our club (Sethu FC) and other clubs as well, all are playing for their University also. We usually have players from age 18-21 and we help them get the education. For them, University football is extremely important because the colleges give them seats. In Tamil Nadu, whoever wins the Inter-University, each player gets Rs 3 Lakh cash amount, the government has announced this year. Last year also Madras University was the runners-up and Annamalai University came third, when it happened in Punjab. And Tamil Nadu teams are likely to come out on top again," Mohaideen said.
PLAYERS' HEALTH IN JEOPARDY?
Post the completion of the University Games, Tamil Nadu state team is to play in Khelo India U21 Games in Guwahati, the squad of which has eight players from Sethu FC. Mohaideen pointed out that it is the health of the players that is being compromised among all of this.
"Immediately after Inter-University finishes on 12th, they have to go for Khelo India to Guwahati, which is a 48-hour journey from Odisha. Khelo India then gets over on 22nd and the IWL begins on 24th," Mohaideen pointed out.
The Inter-University tournament will see each team playing 5-6 games while 6-7 matches per side will also be played in Khelo India Games. With back-to-back games, injuries for players may also become a major concern.
"They should have at least seen the calendar and then planned it. Had they fixed the date for the second week of February, it wouldn't have been a problem for anyone. The players who are studying in colleges, their exams also do not happen before April, it would have been ideal for everyone. I don't know why they are hurrying this so much.
"If every state is organising a state league, why are they asking for a nomination. Had they told us about the nomination, we would not have spent lakhs of rupees on the league. We are bringing girls from all districts to Chennai for the league and are taking care of their stay and food. Nearly Rs 4-5 Lakhs is being spent on organising the league and then after everything, they are asking for nomination," Mohaideen said.
LACK OF PLANNING
Sethu FC were told by the AIFF that they will not be considered for a direct entry into the final round of the IWL as defending champions and hence, they either had to have a state league or be a part of Rest of India group. The Rest of India group includes the teams from the states, where the league did not take place and hence, a qualifying round for all those teams is supposed to take place ahead of the IWL. No schedule has been released so far for the Rest of India qualifying.
Mohaideen said they had consulted AIFF and had shared all the factors with them before starting the league but suddenly on December 26th, the association received an email asking them for a nomination from the state. Till now, the clubs have also not received any information on the format, rules and regulations of the IWL and are only aware of the date and place of commencement.
"The AIFF Women's Department said that I-League committee has taken over the organisation of the IWL so we need to ask them only. Yesterday (January 3) also I spoke to Sunando Dhar (I-League CEO) and he said the date for the final round has been decided and he can't do anything," Mohaideen shared.
Mohaideen feels Sethu FC have been thrown into the deep end, "We are taking 45-50 girls and spending around Rs 20 Lakhs every year for their education and everything. The club makes them play only for IWL and the state league, otherwise they are representing their universities or the state. It is a peculiar case that without any proper intimation, they have just said that 24th is the date for the IWL."
Even if Sethu FC are considered for participation in the IWL after finishing their league on January 20, Mohaideen said, "we cannot have any preparatory camp and can go only for participation. That is the situation this year for the club because they are not considering the geographical part of India and take only individual states in account and decide everything."
Mohaideen feels that considering all the factors, the organisers could have fixed a date for the first week of February, if not any later. "We really don't know how to handle this situation and are just hoping, we hear something from AIFF."