The 2021/22 Indian I-League season kicks off with controversy straight away as newly-promoted Rajasthan United were forced to field 9 players in their opening day match against RoundGlass Punjab FC. This was due to Rajasthan’s inability to register their players in time for the match that was brought on by severe miscommunication between the club and the All India Football Federation (AIFF), which left them with only 9 players eligible for play.
The 2021 I-League Qualifiers was pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which meant champions Rajasthan were unable to register enough players in time, as the registration for I-League players was closed on August 31st, before the qualifiers had even started.
An AIFF rule stated that promoted clubs are allowed to register amateur players into their squad until the re-opening of the player registration on December 31st, and with that in mind Rajasthan signed a good chunk of players on amateur contracts in hopes of finally registering them as professional players once the registration opens again.
However, a new ruling from the AIFF stipulates that any amateur players must be signed before or on August 31st, thus rendering moot the window of reprieve until December 31st.
This obviously does not sit well with Rajasthan, whose squad consists of mainly amateur players. The club only has nine players signed on professional contracts – which includes one foreigner, Nigerian Akeem Abioye – and those nine players took to the field in Rajasthan’s first-ever I-League match against Punjab on Sunday.
Rajasthan had tried their best to get the match postponed but the AIFF stuck to their guns and allowed the match to go ahead.
Surprisingly, Rajasthan’s 9-men managed to hold their own against a full-strength Punjab team, only allowing their opposition to score one goal through Kurtis Guthrie in the 27th minute. Punjab then suddenly found themselves playing with 9 men as well following the 68th minute dismissals of C. K. Vineeth and Robin Singh, but even with their two-man advantage gone Punjab managed to nick themselves the clincher in the 90th minute through Ashangbam Aphaoba Singh.
With Rajasthan’s next match coming on January 5th, the Northern India side would hopefully be able to field a full-strength team once they are able to register their new players on January 1st, however, something must be done by the AIFF to ensure that newly promoted sides are able to field competitive teams in case they were unable to register their players in time due to force majeure, in this case the postponement of the I-League Qualifiers due to the pandemic that caused Rajasthan to miss out on the I-League’s player registration deadline.