New Delhi: All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary general Kushal Das said Saturday there was no other option but to take harsh action against iconic soccer club Mohun Bagan to ensure that I-league remains a serious affair.
The AIFF was "extremely saddened at the decision but rules are rules", Das told IANS.
Mohun Bagan, founded in 1889, has been disqualified from this season of the I-League and banned from the next two editions for abandoning a match against East Bengal mid-way Dec 9 after crowd trouble.
"From emotional point of view the AIFF is extremely saddened at the decision. But rules are rules. There are not newly laid rules and all clubs had agreed to the rules before participating in the league. We cannot make any exceptions," Das said.
The secretary general added that Mohun Bagan were given every possible opportunity to prove that it was a case of Force Majuere during the Kolkata derby of I-League at the packed Salt Lake Stadium, Dec 9.
"Mohun Bagan got every possible opportunity to prove that it was case of Force Majuere. In the second half, East Bengal were ready, the referees were ready, but Mohun Bagan still refused to play. It cannot be a case of Force Majuere for just one team," said Das.
Mohun Bagan were trailing 0-1 against their arch-rivals in the Kolkata derby of I-League when their player Syed Rahim Nabi, in the 43rd minute, was hit on the face by a stone hurled from the crowd at the packed Salt Lake Stadium.
Police had to lathi-charge to bring a 95,000 strong crowd under control. Play resumed after 15 minutes but Mohun Bagan refused to come out in the second half.
Das said Mohun Bagan can still appeal to the AIFF against the decision. "They still have a chance to appeal," he said.
Das said strong steps were needed to send out a strong message to all stake holders in Indian football that the I-League is a serious product.
"Strong steps were needed. We had to send out a strong message that the I-League remains a solid product. We are answerable to our sponsors as well. We are moving towards professionalism and we cannot afford a step back," said Das.
Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia lauded the AIFF for taking a strong decision.
"Mohun Bagan`s decision to abandon the match cannot be supported. I feel sorry for the players and the fans. But football has to go on. Even without Sachin Tendulkar, cricket goes on. I am sure Mohun Bagan will appeal. But rules have been laid down clearly for all the clubs," he said.
The decision on Mohun Bagan was taken at the I-League core committee meeting here Saturday. The committee endorsed the report submitted by the one-man committee of A.K. Ganguly, a retired Supreme Court Judge. The committee was set-up by AIFF president Praful Patel.
Ganguly in his report said that Mohun Bagan`s decision not to play the Kolkata match after interval can`t be supported on the grounds of Force Majeure, and that the club had breached Regulation 22 of the I-League.
According Regulation 22, Mohun Bagan will withdraw from this season, all its matches in the 2012-13 have been cancelled and considered null and void, they are also disqualified from taking part in the next two editions of the I-League and will return any financial stipends paid by the I-League for the 2012-13 season.