After over two months of lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the government of India will now allow stadiums to be opened for sports without the involvement of spectators.
Union Minster for Youth Affairs and Sports, Kiren Rijiju, has clarified that stadiums and training complexes may be opened and sporting events can be conducted behind closed doors, after following the necessary safety precautions.
The activities will need to be executed after following Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) laid out by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
"Sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open; however no spectators will be allowed," read one of the several guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had acted on the instructions of the government to pause all football activities in March earlier this year as the country entered into a lockdown.
"All the sport disciplines are not the same, for example, weightlifting or any sports which do not have physical contact with each other as it has its own way of starting as per SOPs. But other sports like Boxing, Wrestling, Football, Hockey, in these games you have physical contact involved so there are different procedures for different sporting events," Rijiju told ANI.
"That's why right now we can start events but they need to be held without spectators," he added.
The country's lockdown, which has been extended until the end of May, could now allow football matches and training to take place behind closed doors. It must be noted that the current guidelines are for the lockdown till May 31, 2020.
"We are doing it in a phased manner, we have given permission for the activities to kickstart but you need to maintain control and take the states in confidence as some regions also fall under the red zones. So you have to be more careful about the activities being conducted in red zones. Sporting activities have to start because if you don't play, if you don't do activities, it also has negative effects overall on your physical condition and mental condition," Rijiju stated.
However, he also added that gyms and swimming pools will not be allowed to open. "Each sport has their own training programme, you need to careful when it goes to gymming and swimming as everyone will use the same gym and same goes for swimming as many swimmers will be using the same pool," he said.
The Indian Super League (ISL) was wrapped up before the lockdown began but the I-League had to be halted with four rounds left to play. The remaining rounds were later cancelled and Mohun Bagan, who had an unassailable lead, were declared as the champions. The I-League second division and youth leagues were also paused.
Last Saturday, the Bundesliga returned to action behind closed doors and it would now be upon the Indian FA to think about how to proceed, with the restrictions eased. They will need to liaise with the repsective states and come up with a plan.
The reopening of the stadiums certainly bodes well for Indian football.