WATCH -- Senior sports professionals envisage return of La Liga and ISL in a closed-door format

THE LA LIGA IS about to make a comeback in June to complete its current season, while the next season of the Indian Super League may see significant changes in format, said senior professionals from the sports industry during the first episode of a webinar series titled '#SportsPostLockdown'.

The first episode on 'Sports Behind Closed Doors' was held on Thursday, May 8, with participation from Jose Antonio Cachaza, Managing Director, La Liga India, Hemant Dua, former CEO, Delhi Daredevils, and Lydia Buthello, Former EVP and Head of Brand Experience & Events, Star India who shared their insights in a session moderated by Thomas Abraham, Co-Founder & Editorial Director, SportzPower.

The ongoing season of La Liga will be carried out to completion, revealed Cachaza, 

"Professional football brings in 1.4% of the total GDP to the Spanish economy, so it's important to finish... if La Liga and Champions League aren't finished, the negative impact would be around 1 billion Euros which is around 8,000 crore rupees."

The Spanish Football Association and the La Liga brass have already come up with a roadmap for this cautious return to action, which will be carried out in phases adhering to safety protocols, he elaborated,

"This week clubs are going to test all players and all relevant workers that work around the teams for COVID-19. Next week they will be starting individual training... the week after they will start doing small group trainings. The week after that, which is the week of June 1st, there will be full-squad practice. This is the process we are undertaking with the hope of starting competition in the second or third week of June."

This plan of action needs a second nod of approval from the Spanish government to be implemented. As for in-stadia fan presence, Cachaza was clear about where things stood,

"It will be behind closed doors. We have to be clear about that. The aim is to finish the league competitions by August 29th... again, we are in quite unstable times so this is not fixed, but this is the plan we are working on... if there is a fresh massive outbreak in Spain, this will not go ahead."

Unlike La Liga, Indian Super League (ISL) managed to complete its 2019-20 edition before the COVID-19 caused lockdown went into effect, with the final match being played behind closed doors in Goa. With the start of the next season still a few months away, the league's organizers have some time to plan everything correctly, and Lydia Buthello advised a cautious approach,

"A lot depends on what the government guidelines actually allow or disallow... then comes the question of international players, travelling. Games need to be played in every city multiple times and I think that format needs to change, largely. Even keeping all of that in mind, when we come into the infrastructure and what is available to us in India, I think the infrastructure by itself is not conducive for such large gatherings... I would recommend that it would be a wrong message if we have fans that are few in numbers."

Seeing fans return to the stadium in high numbers remains a far-off reality not only in India, but also in Spain. In the words of Cachaza,

"In Europe, there are talks that this no-crowd situation can last till the end of the year, so it's not just about finishing this season. We can also face this in the first half of the next season... Real Madrid will be playing at the small stadium in their sports city where their B team plays, not at Bernabeu... there's a strict protocol that no more than 250-300 people will be allowed inside the stadium, including all professionals."

As for ISL, much of the on-field product will depend on the central government's regulations. According to Lydia, 

"Bringing a large number of foreign players over to India to play football is a challenge... it's completely dependent on the government's travel directives... there needs to be a lot of understanding between Star and the government and FSDL (Football Sports Development Ltd) to establish a clear idea on how to go about it. It's not just about fans coming in, but about the players and production crew all coming together and delivering the same experience on television at the end of the day."

The #SportsPostLockdown webinar series is being organised jointly by GainAccess Sports & Entertainment and SportzPower, and powered by Brandaid Events. In the pipeline are more webinars focusing on key aspects of the business of sports, including sponsorships, fan engagement, and grassroots development, among others.


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