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ISL: The politics behind Kerala Blasters' war with the local administration

ISL club Kerala Blasters currently seem to be at war with the Kochi Corporation. While the 'non-payment of tax' is the bone of contention, there is more than what meets the eye.

ISL: The politics behind Kerala Blasters war with the local administration
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Kerala Blasters FC returned to their home ground in Kochi after a gap of two years. (ISL)

By

The Bridge Desk

Updated: 2022-10-26T17:18:45+05:30

ISL club Kerala Blasters FC returned to their home ground in Kochi after a gap of two years in the 2022-23 season, bringing great joy to the league's most vocal fan base. With an average attendance of 35,000 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for the two home games so far, the Kerala club has predictably drawn the biggest crowds.

Off the field, however, KBFC have been caught in a tug-of-war with the local administration. The Kochi Municipal Corporation and the club exchanged a series of allegations over the non-payment of entertainment tax by the club last week, taking most fans by surprise.

While the matter of the payment of money by the club continues to be debated, there is more to this than what meets the eye.

On October 7, the day of the season opener between Kerala Blasters and East Bengal, a huge commotion was seen at one spot outside the JLN Stadium just before the match. They were a group of youths belonging to the Congress party. Why had they crowded around the stadium? Allegedly, their MLA had been ignored by the club when a request for free tickets was raised.

This isn't the first time that the Kochi corporation is at daggers with the Kerala Blasters administration.

Cricket in Kochi

One of the earliest instances of Kerala Blasters and the Kochi corporation butting heads was in 2018. The Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), Kerala Football Association (KFA) and Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) wanted cricket to be played at the JLNalongside football.

The twist in the tale was that for the wish of the aforementioned bodies to be fulfilled, the pitch at the stadium, which is a FIFA-approved pitch, had to be dug up. Keeping this in mind, there was a huge uproar amongst fans of the Yellow Army as well as eminent public figures.

Football was the winner of this controversy, but a few things stuck out.

The Kerala FA was conspicuous in their support of the proposal to play cricket at the ground instead. "I want both cricket and football to be played here. There is only one stadium in Kochi for cricket and football so we have to face these things. Even if I am into football, how can I forget other things…and the KCA has taken the stadium on a 30-year lease," KFA President K. M. I. Mather said.

After many protests, cricket did stay outside Kochi. But this would hardly be the last time Kerala Blasters would be sorely inconvenienced by the Kochi authorities.

Moving from Kochi to Kozhikode

In 2019, Kerala Blasters were on the brink to move base from Kochi to Kozhikode. The reason? GCDA and the Kochi Corporation had hiked the stadium rent by 20%. Falling attendance figures at the JLN stadium were also reported to have been another factor behind this thought.

Former KBFC CEO Viren D'Silva told Asianet News that the GCDA and the Kochi Corporation would always pose hurdles to their club. Apart from the increase in rent, the requests for complimentary passes have always been a problem, he said.

The jurisdiction of the JLN International stadium is under the GCDA, but Kerala Blasters used to take care of the maintenance and do repairs when needed. In 2019 itself, the KBFC administration spent around 2.2 crores on repairs on the stadium, according to the former CEO.

Ultimately, the club did not move their base to Kozhikode. They continue to play their matches in Kochi - which brings us to what is transpiring in the present day.

Current situation

Earlier this month, the corporation served a notice to the ISL outfit demanding to pay the entertainment tax, to which the club didn't respond. The lack of response from the Kerala Blasters incited the authorities and on 18th October they went on to release a declaration stating that they'll revoke the permission to conduct the Indian Super League matches in Kochi.

In response to that Kerala Blasters said in a press release, "The Government of Kerala issued an order exempting the payment of the entertainment tax for football matches held in Kerala... In addition, a writ petition is also pending before the Honourable High court of Kerala regarding the applicability of entertainment tax for Football matches played in ISL tournaments."

Reacting to the allegations by themselves accusing the corporation of 'contempt of court', the KBFC release added: "As the notice issued by the Cochin Corporation is contrary to the interim stay of the High Court and the Government orders in connection with the entertainment tax, the said notice is not applicable according to the law and can attract condemnation of the court."

While the corporation has disregarded the club's rebuttal, the ISL outfit is likely to stick to their stand on the issue. We'll have to wait and see what happens in the coming days as the age-old feud between the two parties continues to have new chapters written.

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