I-League side Minerva Punjab FC will play their first AFC Cup home match at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on May 1. The new development brought the curtain down on the long-standing dispute that left the club in a shabby state as they struggled to find a stadium to play their home matches, with AIFF playing the role of a mute spectator.
Earlier, Odisha government, the custodian of the stadium, told Minerva that it would not be possible for them to give them the stadium for their AFC Cup matches as the stadium is due to undergo renovation to sport a new look for the scheduled 2020 FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup.
Later, the Odisha government changed its stance on the matter as it agreed to give permission to Minerva to play their AFC matches at Kalinga Stadium after club president Ranjit Bajaj met the state sports and youth services director Vineel Krishna and commissioner-cum-sports secretary Vishal Kumar.
After hours of talks, the Odisha government gave Minerva the nod to use the stadium to play their first AFC Cup home match against Nepalese club Manang Marshyangdi.
"I explained the situation to them and informed them that we can change our stadium only 30 days prior to the game. They understood the situation and have awarded us permission to host our first game at the Kalinga Stadium," said Bajaj in an interview with a sports magazine.
Expressing his gratitude to the Odisha government Bajaj further added, "I am grateful to the Odisha government for understanding our plight and immediately coming up with a solution.”
Bajaj had taken the initiative to hold talks with Odisha government after AIFF informed them that the AFC doesn’t have any issue if the club finds a venue for their home match against Manang Marshyangdi.
Nevertheless, Minerva has been given permission to play only their first AFC Cup match, as a result, they will have to find out a new venue (read venues) for their next two home matches, which are scheduled to be played on June 19 and 26 against Chennaiyin FC and Abahani Dhaka, respectively.
To ensure their next ‘home venues’ the club has already sent their applications to four stadiums – Goa's Bambolim Stadium, Pune's Balewadi Stadium, Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium and Guwahati's Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
As per the AFC norms, the host club needs to finalise the venue 30 days before a match. Hence, Minerva now has only 39 days in hand to announce venues for their second and third home games. The deadline to announce the venues for the next two matches is May 20.
Earlier, Minerva pulled out of Super Cup as their concerns were not heard by the Indian football governing body. Later, the Punjab club was joined by Gokulam Kerala and Aizawl FC.
(Featured Image: Twitter/Odisha Sports)
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