The upcoming season of Indian football is set to be extremely different to what we used to consider as 'normal'.
Not only are the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League being held at centralised venues, there will be new protocols related to safety and social distancing implemented in order to deal with the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have already seen leagues across the world restart after the Coronavirus-induced break including the Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga, the Chinese Super League, K-League and more. They have all had to implement safety protocols for match and training situations in order to ensure they eliminate risk to the players and staff associated with the clubs and the league.
It is safe to say that ISL will have to follow suit. In a meeting with the 10 clubs that take part in the league, ISL laid out the initial guidelines for the smooth conducting of the upcoming edition while observing social distancing protocols which would prioritise the players' health and safety.
What are these protocols?
First and foremost, the ISL will form a central medical team and employ a League Hygiene Officer who will oversee issuing operational directives and implementing the same across the spectrum.
The ISL has also mandated that the clubs hire a Hygiene Officer of their own who will be in charge of ensuring the health and safety of the players/team officials throughout the season.
All team staff and players will also be given a presentation or sorts to ensure everybody are on the same page.
All personnel will be divided into three groups - a High Protection, a Medium Protection and a General Protection group.
The high protection group will consist of players, team officials and their co-residents including family and friends. Backroom staff and television presenters who interact with the players will also be included in this group. They will be tested twice to thrice every week for Covid-19.
The medium protection group consists of league staff, broadcast staff, club management officials and hotel staff. They will be tested once or twice every week.
The general protection group will be the accredited agency staff who will be tested once a week.
Protocols before arriving in host city
All players and staff must obtain a negative Covid-19 test at their home city 48 hours before arriving in the host city. They will be tested again on arrival and spend some time in isolation even if the result is negative. If not, they will be hospitalised and/or monitored until they test negative again.
Player Training Protocols
Teams will have to ensure that their players return to full-fledged training in four phases so that they do not risk their health. A similar policy was adopted by the top European leagues and other top Asian leagues before their competitions re-started.
Level 1 - On their arrival to the host city, players will need to train in isolation individually for six days. They will be tested for the virus on the first and fourth day.
Level 2 - Players will start training in small staggered groups for the next 10-12 days. There will be restrictions on number of sessions, facility use and personnel involved. During this stage, the players will be tested thrice - on the 8th, 11th and 14th days.
Level 3 - The training groups will be larger in this stage but all social distancing and personal hygiene measures will be implemented. Players will be tested twice a week or once every four days at this stage.
Level 4 - This stage is a glimpse of the past practices where the restrictions are to be relaxed to varying degrees depending upon the government directives. The players will continue be tested once a week.
Just like the Chinese Super League, the ISL will also organise entertainment zones at the hotels to limit player movement. There will be special vehicles for players and staff movement. The clubs have been encouraged to hold team meetings online as well among numerous similar measures.
These are not final guidelines yet and are still being developed. However, with such positive and much-needed measures set to be implemented, the players' minds should be at ease ahead of the start of the upcoming season.