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Blue Pilgrims face ire over banner calling out AIFF's mishandling of Indian football

A VERBAL CONFRONTATION TOOK PLACE between fans and match organizing authorities at the EKA Arena, Ahmedabad, during India's match against North Korea at the Hero Intercotninental Cup.

Blue Pilgrims, a consortium of fans that follows the Indian national team around the world, drew the ire of organizers over a banner that they had brought into the stadium that expressed displeasure over forceful relegation of top flight clubs by AIFF and their commercial partners FSDL.

The banner simply said, "Football doesn't matter. Money does?" But even before it was unfurled, multiple officials wearing badges tried to have it removed from the stadium.

According to a Blue Pilgrims member, two people from the organizing staff approached them, asking them not to display the banner. When the fans refused, the staff allegedly spoke to them in a rude manner, and said they could be banned from future matches for this.

Afterwards, when the banner was unfurled, some of the security staff came up to the section where it was and tried to have it removed. The fans refused to budge, asking them to tell them why they should remove it. The reason given to them was "breaking stadium rules" but when they asked which stadium rule was broken by the banner, which was not abusive to anyone and simply registered a question that's pertinent to the current reality of Indian football, they were unable to come up with a satisfactory answer.

Later, more officials approached the fans, repeating their demand that the banner should be removed. The fans refused. Heated words were exchanged, and the fans allege that an official threatened to break their phones, which the fans were using to document the incident. The fans responded by raising slogans against AIFF's commercial partners FSDL.

A source close to the situation denied this allegation to TFG, and claimed that it was the fans who had spoken rudely to the officials and even threatened them. A member of the Blue Pilgrims who was present during the incident denied that claim.

The Blue Pilgrims have had a long co-operative relationship with AIFF. The Federation has often encouraged the group, and the Pilgrims, in return, have always been there to cheer for the national team, be it home or away. Even as India succumbed to a 2-5 defeat to North Korea, the Blue Pilgrims stood on their feet for 90 minutes and supported the Blue Tigers with their chants and slogans. But this undesirable incident over just one banner of that expressed the genuine concern of the fans speaks of a potential breakdown of trust between AIFF and the Indian football fans; symptomatic of the air of mistrust prevalent between the Federation, their commercial partners FSDL and the independent clubs of this country.

The Indian national team will play their third and possibly last match in the tournament against Syria on Tuesday, 16th July. It's yet to be seen whether the Blue Pilgrims will once again bring in any such banner, and whether the organizers will react poorly again to fans speaking their mind on the sport they love and support.

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