Indian football is back, with the I-League qualifiers being the first official tournament to be held in India after the nationwide lockdown was first imposed in March. The tournament is being held in a bio-secure bubble in Kolkata, and the AIFF hopes it lays the groundwork for the two much longer tournaments to follow. The Indian Super League (ISL) will take place in Goa in late November, while the I-League proper will be held in Kolkata in late December.
A bio-secure bubble is an environment sealed off from the outside world. Whoever is in the bubble - players, coaches, staff, referees - will be confined to this space, cutting down their physical interactions with the outside world and thus minimising threat of exposure to the virus. The NBA pulled off the last phase of their regular season and their playoffs within a bubble, with zero positive cases. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is currently doing it, with bubbles in three cities - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah.
We asked Sunando Dhar, CEO Leagues, AIFF, what protocols are in place for the three tournaments they are hosting within the bubbles in Kolkata and Goa.
How many hotels will be used?
Every team is kept within the same hotel for the I-League qualifiers, because it is a smaller tournament. The ISL will see every team in separate hotels. In the I-league, 11 teams would be spread across three hotels, with referees in a fourth.
Is a test necessary before entering the bubble?
Every individual must test twice (both have to come back negative), before entering the bubble.
Once in, the tests are carried out every five days - this is the case for the I-League qualifiers, and it may be made a little more stringent for the ISL and I-league because of their longer duration.
What happens in case of a breach of the bubble?
These are written into the SOPs shared with everyone involved. If there is a breach, or a guest is brought in, then the player/staff member/official is isolated. They would then need to repeat the whole initial process - test twice, continue to stay in isolation for four days, and then test again. If all three tests come negative, then only they are allowed back in.
What happens if there are positive cases?
The I-league qualifiers saw two positive cases, while ISL teams arriving for pre-season in Goa also saw seven cases among the players. In both instances, the protocol is similar to what happens in case of a breach. As soon as someone becomes positive, they are isolated into a separate floor and are tested after four-five days. If there is a negative test, then within 48 hours there is another test and if that comes negative, with two negatives they get back into the bubble.
When can a player/team leave the bubble?
The teams can leave only for three reasons - 1) matches 2) practice 3) medical emergencies. For each instance, they will have a dedicated, sanitized vehicle, whose drivers and helpers have also been tested and cleared.