The All India Football Federation (AIFF) will hold its next two I-League fixtures in Srinagar on December 5 and 11, despite reservations expressed by home club Real Kashmir FC about a fragile political climate in the Valley. Real Kashmir FC had approached AIFF asking for the next two matches (against Aizawl and Shillong Lajong) to be deferred to a later date following an escalation in tension in the Valley after the deaths of close to 30 militants.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar confirmed to ESPN that there had been "a concern raised" by RKFC, about whether the coming week would "be the right time" to stage the games.
Discussions with the advisor to the governor of Jammu & Kashmir that followed have given the AIFF the confidence to stage the next two games in Srinagar. "He said he didn't think there is any reason that the match should be postponed..."
During the course of early discussions about the viability of hosting matches in Srinagar, the governor's office had given the AIFF a 'green signal' that "whenever there is a match in Kashmir it is the government's responsibility to ensure law and order and to ensure that safety for the away teams and everyone." When asked about the matches on the 5th and 11th, the governor's advisor, was asked whether the league needed to plan for a rescheduling of the games, "he said no. After that there is about a six-week gap (for matches in Srinagar) because of the winter."
During RKFC's first home win against Indian Arrows, photographs of the crowd at the match were circulated on social media, in order to generate hostile political comments about the inappropriateness of watching football in an environment of political turmoil. There is a worry that the week ahead will be a tense one, as separatist groups have called for the week starting December 3 to be marked as "Human Rights Week" by the public across the Valley.
Moonis, founder of the Real Kashmir Snow Leopards Fan Club, told ESPN, "We hope the matches are deferred, as the situation has not been conducive given the circumstances. Every football fan only wants football. If the situation becomes tense and watching football becomes an issue, we may not be able to watch our next home game and we don't want our home games taken away from us."
The 12,000-capacity TRC ground has staged four home games and the crowd have only increased, with the metal bleachers being packed close to 20,000, according to the estimates of organisers.
Tickets are distributed free the day before a game and crowds begin lining up early. In order to grab spots in the Super Fans stand next to the home dressing room, Moonis says, club members need to turn up at 11 AM for a 2 PM start.
The size of the crowd and the prospect of any incident during the match is what had led to the request for the match to be played at a later date, when it was hoped tension would subside. After the match on the 11th, Real Kashmir travel for six away matches and play their next home game only on January 28.