It is one of the oldest football clubs in the country, with an army of fans, but East Bengal FC has now let down the very players who have helped it continue that rich legacy.
One month into the coronavirus-imposed lockdown, the club announced that it was terminating the contracts of most players in the squad, even evicting them from their homes at the end of May, while the lockdown in Kolkata was still in effect.
According to news reports now, five players have sent a notice to the club’s former sponsor Quess after they did not receive their salaries for the months of April and May.
East Bengal and Bengaluru-based Quess parted ways on 31 May and made a 'unilateral decision' to apply the ‘force majeure’ clause in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic to terminate the deals.
Indian players like Abhishek Ambekar and Pintu Mahata had multiple-year contracts with the red and golds and are now left out in the cold with no salaries for the last two months.
According to Siddhartha Bhattacharya, the players’ representative at the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) the onus is now on East Bengal to pay their players.
“Legally East Bengal should still be paying the players because Quess is just an investor or maybe their main sponsor. So as a liability of the club, it’s still East Bengal’s liability to look after their players but then, as far as my knowledge goes, when East Bengal got into a new partnership with Quess, they had made a new company which was called Quess East Bengal FC and as of now, from the kind of messages we’re getting from the players, Quess East Bengal FC is not going to be the club anymore. The existing partnership is coming to an end,” he said explaining the current status quo that is seeing the players suffer.
The club’s stance to not pay its players would have been understandable, had it not been busy the last month buying new players for the next season!
“As many people know, the club has been signing new players also. So we do feel if you're signing new players and if you have the money to pay new players, you should be having enough finance in your budget to play the old players also,” said Bhattacharya.
The i-league season was cancelled on 16 April with 28 matches remaining in the season and Mohun Bagan were declared champions. Most players returned to their home towns and the foreigners went back to their countries. However, the handful of players and a coaching staff who are still in the city in May were dealt yet another rude shock as they were evicted out of their homes by month-end despite the city being in complete lockdown due to the coronavirus.
“Most of the Indian players who were asked to evict their homes in the middle of the month, I think in May, they managed to go home. There were a couple of foreigners who had a bit of a problem but then they managed to find a place. We, at the time thought it wasn’t humane to do something like that,” said Bhattacharya who has been in close contact with the players and helping them with the way forward.
However, as he informed The Quint, players being not paid and contracts being terminated with no just cause is nothing new to the i-league.
“You know the older clubs – with all due respect to them – as much a fan following as they have, they have always been burdened by these problems of unprofessionalism and players not getting paid. We have seen a lot of cases like this before. Obviously not because of the pandemic – the pandemic is something new to the World – but we have seen before also that when players have faced tough situations, clubs have abandoned them,” he said.