It’s confirmed. The Indian football teams are not going to the Asian Games, thanks to the IOA who appeared to be ‘strictly’ following the guidelines set by the government. However, with the list of 524 athletes now out in public, it seems that the body had been pretty flexible with other sports but not with football.
The Indian Olympics Association (IOA) has denied the Indian football teams from participating in the Asian Games 2018 citing guidelines to only send top 8 teams in the discipline. The AIFF made attempts to convey how important such tournaments are for youth development, given that the competition involves U-23 teams, and that Indian football has improved a lot over the past 3-4 years, as well as the tournament being an apt platform to test out players before the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Despite all this, the IOA stuck to its original decision of not sending ‘also rans’.
While the exclusion of football, even though heavily criticised, could be justified by the criteria sought by the IOA, inclusion of some sports despite not fulfilling the requirements is what raises questions on the IOA’s approach towards the development of sports in India, and the justification indicates a potential bias due to presence of some federation officials in IOA’s committees.
Take, for instance, the volleyball teams. The men and women’s teams did not compete in the Asian Championships last year due to the in-fighting in the federation. Prior to that, in 2015, the men’s team were placed 11th in the final standings, a sharp drop from the fifth place they achieved at the 2014 Asian Games. The women, meanwhile, were 10th at the 2015 Asian Championships, once again, unable to match their Asiad performance, where they finished eighth out of nine teams. The international rankings, too, have not been maintained for the last one year, adding to the ambiguity.
It’s a similar story for the women’s handball team, who have largely been inactive over the last 12 months. Narinder Batra, IOA Chief, claimed the team is ranked fifth in Asia and hence has been included. “We have been given the latest rankings and as per that, they meet the criteria. Since they are ranked fifth in Asia, they must be of some standard,” Batra said. The rankings, though, aren’t available on the Asian Handball Federation website.
In canoe-kayak, India’s team strength is 19. At the previous Asian Championships, more than half of the team didn’t even got to the final – only 7 out of the 17 did & there was just one top-six finish. It’s a similar scenario in cycling and swimming, where most athletes have struggled to achieve a top 10 finish in the Asian Championships of their respective disciplines, let alone matching the top-six standard from the previous Games.
A total of 34 rowers are a part of the contingent but at the Asian Championships last year, India managed to win just one medal (a bronze) while a bulk of them could not meet the criteria which says the athlete should record a performance equivalent of top-six finish from the previous edition of the Games.
India have struggled in table tennis as well but Batra said the recent performances at the Commonwealth Games meant they were given an exemption. This is clearly absurd as the level of competition in Asian Games is way higher than the Commonwealth Games where dominating nations like China, Korea do not even participate.
By citing recent performances as the criteria, Mr. Batra is exposing himself having failed to understand the improvement in Indian football, where the men’s team qualified for the Asian Cup, had an unbeaten streak and almost qualified for the AFC U-23 Championships giving a strong fight to the likes of Qatar and Syria. The women’s team won gold at both the SAFF Championship and the South Asian Games in 2016 and have an improved domestic structure with the onset of a women’s league. If the IOA does not count performances at the subcontinental level, performances at the CWG too shouldn’t hold value. Going by the rankings, India stand 13th and 12th in Asia in men’s and women’s football respectively (Australia does not participate in Asian Games).
Regarding triathlon, where Indians are nowhere close to Asian standards but still selected, Batra said: “This is the first time triathlon has been included in the Asian Games so we had to look at it differently.”
It is clear to be seen that the IOA has been explicitly flexible with the criteria when it came to some sports, but football, despite huge prospects and improved performances hasn’t been looked at in the same manner. While the IOA may not have a thing against football, it seems to have been biased in favour of some sports.
Officials from most of these federations are also a part of IOA’s executive board. Anandeshwar Pandey, the secretary of Handball Federation of India, is also the IOA’s treasurer while HFI’s CEO Surinder Bali is among the joint secretaries in the IOA. Balbir Singh Kushwaha, secretary of the canoeing and kayaking federation, is also an executive committee member of the IOA while Swimming Federation’s CEO Virendra Nanavati remains an influential member of the Olympic body. Rowing, volleyball and triathlon, too, are well-represented in the IOA.
God help Indian sports.
Excerpts from: The Indian Express