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Indian football, and not just Mohun Bagan, awaits its biggest verdict in recent years. When Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly delivers his judgement on Wednesday, it won't affect just the club's future, but national football itself — which is currently at a crossroads.
Team Bagan had taken an unprecedented step by refusing to play the second half of their I-League encounter against East Bengal. Yes, there was crowd trouble and Syed Rahim Nabi was badly injured, bleeding profusely after being hit by an object thrown from the terraces. But the Bagan officials had over-ridden the referee and match commissioner and decided on their own that the situation was too volatile to continue.
So now, Justice Ganguly will take a decision if indeed the security of the Bagan players was threatened. Rule 22/B of the AIFF constitution states that the punishment for refusing to continue with the game without match officials' permission is a two-year ban. But the federation was wise enough not to go by the letter of the law as the country's biggest football club was involved.
AIFF president Praful Patel did well to appoint a one-man commission to deal with the affair. Football loses everything without fans' support and it is true that Indian football will lose a bit of its relevance without a Bagan or an East Bengal.
While a banned club in Europe will not cripple the entire system, that's precisely what will happen if you take one of the few football giants out of the picture in India. But the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) monitors the I-League and they want the Indian authorities to play by the book.
It is indeed a Catch-22 situation. Without the three-time champions, Indian football will be bereft of its biggest rivalry in the I-League. Just the incomplete last match between Bagan and East Bengal witnessed a turnout of 100,000 spectators at the Salt Lake Stadium. If Bagan is banned, television viewership is sure to take a hit and the host broadcasters might just think twice in renewing its contract next season.