The ‘new normal’ of football has set in with the I-League Qualifiers. Following the strict Covid-19 safety guidelines, those operating in and around the tournament have already conducted four successful matches, two each in Kolkata and Kalyani respectively.
While all the five teams - Garhwal FC, ARA FC, Bhawanipore FC, Mohammedan SC and FC Bengaluru United - have made their own adjustments to adapt to the new rules and regulations for their own safety, there is yet another team that is quietly working away behind the scenes, making sure all the matches are run smoothly - the referees.
️ Referee Santhosh Kumar: We’re proud to be a part of the tournament that has brought football back, in fact, bring sports back in India . All are ready to accept COVID safety regulations & move forward together #IndianFootballForwardTogether ⚽ #HeroILeagueQ pic.twitter.com/wLtK1XdNvT— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) October 13, 2020
“This is a unique experience for us all. But we have to adjust because football action has finally come back to India. We are proud to be a part of the tournament that has brought football back, in fact, bring sports back in India. It is up to us to manage. All are ready to accept the Covid safety regulations and move forward together," referee Santhosh Kumar, who has been officiating in the tournament, was quoted as saying in an AIFF media release.
There has been a significant change to how the referees need to approach a game of football with regards to the build-up to a particular game, in order to comply with the Covid-safety guidelines that have been put in place for the tournament.
While each team can make five substitutions in a game, there is a very specific pattern in which these substitutions can be made, explained referee Raktim Saha.
“There are only three opportunities to make five substitutions now. Yes, you have five substitutions in hand, but in order to not prolong the added time much longer, teams must make these substitutions in three windows," he stated.
Saha believes that despite the setbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian football has now fought its way back.
“Indian football is growing. We were closed for 8 months but we still kept attending the courses and kept our fitness intact. Now that Indian football is back, and we are all moving forward together despite the pandemic, so it feels really good," he maintained.