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BFC at risk of losing Kanteerava Stadium over legal tussle

Bengaluru FC (BFC), the reigning ISL champions, could be forced to shift homes with a little over a month to go for the 2019-20 season to begin, as a result of an ongoing court probe into the status of the Kanteerava Stadium, a multi-purpose ground that is shared for practice and events by the Karnataka Athletics Association.

In July this year, some Karnataka-based athletes had objected to the usage of the stadium by the club, pointing out how natural grass had been replaced by artificial grass on the field -- it is in fact a carpet that shields the touchlines, so that players don't injure themselves when they fall -- and that practising athletes were hampered by advertising hoardings, television crew wires and cables a day before every match.

On Monday, the club's director Parth Jindal tweeted assuring the athletes full support of the club, and hoping for the ongoing impasse to be sorted in time. BFC have already lined up Ahmedabad and Pune as their backup grounds, just in case the Karnataka High Court rules against the club.

"It's no secret that it is going to bother us to go out of Bengaluru and play, whether it's the fans or the comfort zone that the players enjoy here," BFC CEO Mandar Tamhane had told reporters on the first day of pre-season training on Friday. "We are just hopeful that things get sorted out. It's not as if we are there to stop any sport. We ourselves as a group promote so many sports -- cricket, kabaddi, athletics, judo, etc. At the end of the day, what happens is not in our control."

BFC, who played in the I-League for the first four years of their existence, had actually played their first season at the Bangalore Football Stadium (BFS), before shifting to the Kanteerava during the 2014-15. The BFS is not a viable second option for hosting ISL matches, as the turf used is artificial, and the dressing room facilities, as well as those for broadcasting, do not meet ISL's requirements.

BFC will also be involved in AFC Cup matches, beginning with the preliminary stages in January or February 2020. While submitting their license criteria for AFC competition, Tamhane explained that they would be allowed to change their home venue closer to the event, similar to what Minerva Punjab did in 2019, when they had to shift from Ahmedabad to Guwahati.

"We'll have to submit certain documents for a certain stadium, which could be any. But having said that, if we don't get the desired things in Bengaluru, we have the ability to change at a later stage," he said.

"Then you'll have the AFC communications, and the draws for AFC, where you have to communicate your ground. So, if you ask me for the deadline for documents for AFC licensing, January 15 is the updated deadline from AFC and AIFF. Then you are looking at both the licenses - the national and the AFC license."

Two ISL clubs have already shifted their venues and been rechristened for the new season - FC Pune City have been replaced now by Hyderabad FC, while Delhi Dynamos have been replaced by Odisha FC and will play the season out of Bhubaneswar.

BFC, who will soon move to their parent organisation JSW Sports' home base in Vijaynagar on the outskirts of the city, are scheduled to play friendlies against three I-League clubs as part of their pre-season. Moving to Vijaynagar, ESPN understands, is also not a viable option because of its distance from the city centre.

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