Pulwama Terror Attack: Minerva Punjab move Delhi High Court, Skip Real Kashmir match in Srinagar amid security concerns
Sticking to their guns, I-League holders Minerva Punjab did not turn up for their match against Real Kashmir in Srinagar after failing to receive an assurance from the Union Home Ministry regarding the safety of the match and their players.
The Chandigarh-based club moved the Delhi High Court seeking its intervention to shift the match out of the trouble-torn valley. Minerva Punjab's writ petition will come up for hearing on Tuesday, February 19. Usually, if a team fails to turn up for a match, the other club (Real Kashmir) is handed 3 points and a 3-0 result. But the court's decision in this case will prove vital.
"Even today, there was an attack near Pulwama and another terrorist was killed," Ranjit Bajaj, Minerva Punjab owner, told Sportskeeda. "There was a bandh yesterday and I wonder how they can conduct a match when there's an encounter happening nearby.
"How can I ask my foreign players to travel to Srinagar for a match when they have been advised against going to that region? Football cannot be more important than the life of a person.
"We're willing them to play anywhere on a venue which is safe for us."
On February 14, at least 42 CRPF personnel were killed after a Jaish-e-Mohammed affiliated suicide bomber rammed a vehicle with explosives into the CRPF convoy in Pulwama near Srinagar.
Following the Pulwama Terror Attack, Minerva Punjab first asked the All India Football Federation if the match could be moved out of Srinagar. When the AIFF made it clear that relocation would be the last resort, Minerva Punjab director Bajaj sought permission and security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs for his players to travel to Srinagar.
Minerva Punjab did not receive any clearance and the match, which was scheduled for 2 pm on Monday, February 18, was abandoned. As per the AIFF Disciplinary Code, Minerva will be sanctioned with forfeiting a game and "is considered to have lost the match by 3-0".
That apart, Minerva Punjab may be hit with a fine of minimum Rs 6 lakh for forfeiting the match.
According to Article 57 of the AIFF Disciplinary Code, "If a team refuses to play a match or to continue playing one which it has begun, it will be sanctioned with a minimum fine of Rs.6,00,000/- and will, in principle, forfeit the match. In serious cases, the team will also be disqualified from the competition in progress."
However, if the court rules in Minerva's favour, the AIFF will have to organise the match at a neutral venue.
The AIFF said in a statement that the matter has been referred to its league committee. "With Hero I-League defending champions Minerva Punjab FC failing to turn up for their scheduled match against Real Kashmir FC on February 18, 2019 at TRC ground in Srinagar, the Match Commissioner’s report along with other relevant documents are being referred to the All India Football Federation’s League Committee for further action as per the I-League Regulations," the AIFF said.
Even East Bengal have urged the AIFF to move their game against Real Kashmir out of Srinagar with Football Delhi offering to host Real Kashmir's home matches. Apart from the Minerva 'home' game, Real Kashmir have to host East Bengal on Feb 28.
Minerva Punjab had warned the AIFF that they would move court if the AIFF hand Real Kashmir 3 matches from the match.
"Contrary to media reports, Minerva Punjab has not forfeited the match against Real Kashmir. Minerva is ready to play the match at any safe venue," Minerva said in a statement.
"...When foreign players are being advised not to travel to the region, how can the club force them to travel based on verbal assurances?
"We believe it is not too much for a team to ask for a safe match venue to play.
"If three points are given to Real Kashmir for the match despite failing to provide any security assurances, then we will appeal the decision and consider moving to (sic) court for relief."
This is the first time that a team hasn't turned up for a match in recent years. Back in December 2012, Mohun Bagan did not turn up to play the second half of their Kolkata Derby I-League match against East Bengal after their player Syed Rahim Nabi was targetted by EB fans and had to be hospitalised.