For the fans of Indian football, the last few weeks have been like a roller-coaster ride, more for the off-the-field issues. Besides positive news like the AIFF President being elected as the FIFA Council Member, a lot is happening in Indian football of which the most talked about issue is the rife between the I-League clubs and the parent body. Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj’s tweet saying he may have to shut down the club shook the Indian football circuit. Although there have been many reasons behind the I-League clubs being annoyed but the recent string of events including the defamation case by Kerala Blasters and the dilemma with Odisha FA regarding venue change stirred the situation.
TalkSports 24X7 managed to catch up with Ranjit Bajaj, who is in the centre of all discussions in Indian football currently and the Minerva Punjab co-owner spoke his mind out regarding the recent ongoings with the club.
● TalkSports 24X7: What’s the current state of affairs in Minerva Punjab? We saw the tweets, what’s the scenario at present?
○ Ranjit Bajaj: See if we don’t get the Kalinga stadium and it’s too late already then we are banned. We talked to the Odisha government and they said if AIFF tells us that it is OK then we have no problem in giving the stadium which means my parent body is the one who has got it done.
● TalkSports 24X7: So what’s the current stand regarding shutting down the club because if it shuts down then it’s not only the senior team but an entire operation including the several age group teams will collapse?
○ Ranjit Bajaj : See we have given sixty plus players to the Indian team in last four years. So that means an average of five players in every team has been ours. The parent body should be worried that it can have a profound implication if we shut down because it will result in 200 USD fine per match and a total of 600 USD fine for three matches and in addition to that a probable ban of five years by AFC. So how can we spend on kids if the money gets wasted in the fine to be paid to AFC! And see the parent body understands all of these and they have done it consciously. They want me to get banned by AFC without them being the bad guys in the middle, as simple as that!
● Talk Sports 24X7: So what was the exact agreement with the Odisha FA and the concerned bodies regarding the venue?
○ Ranjit Bajaj : The agreement was they gave permission to host all the matches and the Odisha government had also wrote to AFC. Then AFC sent their representatives and they did all the checkings including light, food, security etc. And the day before yesterday AFC have sent me tickets because we are the hosts; the referees, the match commissioner etc they have sent me their tickets so that we know when they will be landing in Bhuvaneswar. So this is the situation!
And the team who will be coming they have already booked their tickets and hotel. So it’s too late! If they would have told me five days before to when they actually told me, we would have managed to change the venue also. They did it intentionally once our first match is over as once the group stage starts it becomes next to impossible to change the venue.
● TalkSports 24X7: Recently Mr. Praful Patel has told that there’s no point of meeting the I-League clubs as inspite of the assurance of the meeting they boycotted the Super Cup. So what’s the current stand of the I-League clubs alliance which includes the seven clubs?
○ Ranjit Bajaj: Was Super Cup the point of meeting? The administrators are so short-sighted that they thought we are wanting the meeting to talk about Super Cup? The reason we wanted to meet is to decide the future and the road map of Indian football. Super Cup was only a secondary issue. So there’s no base of saying that there’s no point of meeting if the I-League clubs have not participated in the Super Cup.
● TalkSports 24X7: The I-League clubs alliance also proposed a structure for a unified league. What’s your stand on that?
○ Ranjit Bajaj: See if they don’t want to listen to our pathway, they have to disclose their pathway. It’s not their future, it’s the future of all of us so they can’t keep us in dark. FIFA and AFC have sent them a report six months ago and they have not officially disclosed anything about it! See that’s the problem.
● TalkSports 24X7: So what’s the current stand of the I-League clubs alliance?
○ Ranjit Bajaj: See if he really does not want to meet us then the Court is the only way. I can’t say about others but I will have to go to the Court. We are not living in a dictatorship, we are living in World’s largest democracy.
● TalkSports 24X7: Recently Kerala Blasters have sent a defamation notice against you. What’s the scenario regarding that?
○ Ranjit Bajaj: See they have sent a notice where they want an apology and they want 60 crores. So it’s not that if we apologise they will stop it but they want both the apology and 60 Crores or they are going to the Court. They have not only told me but they have told India Today and IANS also. So what we are doing is we are sending them a letter where we will be saying that you tell us what you want to be said by us but you can’t demand 60 Crores! And what’s so big deal in it? They could have easily made a statement that they have paid the salaries but they have still not done that. See they instead want to go to the Court and I will have to say where I got the information from. I have got the information from the players themselves but I won’t name them cause they are still playing and their career might get ruined if I take names.
And the problem is I know it’s not the Kerala Blasters who is behind this but they have been forced to do this. Otherwise I share a very good relationship with them. I have given many players to them and I know they would have never done this unless they had been pressurised by the concerned authority. So the whole situation is complicated and not good!
Ranjit Bajaj thus expressed his views on the issue but for the sake of neutrality we also contacted the Odisha FA Secretary Sanjay Behera but he denied to comment in detail on this issue as he said, “There are a lot of internal issues. It’s not proper for me to make any remark on this”. Our sources have told us that the decision of the I-League clubs alliance to boycott the Super Cup in Bhuvaneswar has costed the Odisha FA and the Odisha Govt highly and they were not happy with the Minerva Punjab owner. Although officially they have represented the renovation to be done to the stadium for the U17 Women’s World Cup as the reason.
Amidst all these dilly-dally now it remains to be seen whether the AIFF President actually meets the I-League clubs and we would also have to keep an eye on the meeting of the AIFF League & Disciplinary Committee on 12th April.