After much doubt, the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) has refused to give clearance to the Indian football teams for the Asian Games which will be held in Indonesia this year. The decision deals a huge blow specially for the men’s team which is preparing for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 starting in January. The Asian Games begin on August 18.
The IOA has decided to stick with its policy of top-eight finish in the last edition as a qualification criterion for teams. The Indian men’s and women’s football teams finished at 26th (out of 29) and 9th (out of 11) respectively in the 2014 Incheon games, thus failed to make the cut this time. However, sending the men’s team irrespective of the criterion made sense as the team is in dire need of exposure prior to the AFC Asian Cup which will commence on January 6 next year in the UAE. The football has also shown improvement over last 3-4 years, in process climbing to 97th rank in the FIFA men’s rankings and it is fair to say that they deserve a chance.
The Asian Games football competition involves U23 teams with 3 over aged players allowed in the squad. Participation would mean much needed practice for the team given that as many as 10 U23 players are part of the active national team setup. Being part of the Asian Games squad could provide necessary exposure to a challenge of similar nature to as many as 13 players most likely to be part of the Asian Cup squad. The tournament will also give Stephen Constantine a good look at the youngsters so he could pick a few for further national team matches.
It was being speculated earlier that the teams had been clear for the game and the AIFF was optimistic of a confirmation, so much that it had planned to send the men’s team to Australia for training. As per a source, the Women’s team too had already started their preparatory camp in Bangalore.
“Neither the men’s nor the women’s teams have not been cleared. They had earlier told us informally that the men’s team had been cleared. So much so that they had even sent mails for the jersey measurements of the players!” the source revealed talking to SportStar.
The IOA however seems reluctant to send the football teams because they did not stand a chance to win medals. “Guidelines are in place and we are strictly following them. The football team hasn’t done well internationally and had no chance of winning medals. So there was no point sending them for the Games,” a senior IOA official said. “We are evolving as a sporting nation. In many sports, we are competing for gold medals. In such a scenario, we shouldn’t send a team merely to compete.”
The AIFF will be trying to work things out with the sports minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and are ready to challenge the decision of the IOA. “Football is easily the most competitive sport in the world. It’s not easy to be in top eight of the continent and this decision taken by the IOA completely ignores the progress made in the recent years. We will raise the issue with the highest authorities and ensure the participation of our teams,” an AIFF official said.
National men’s team head coach Stephen Constantine had made a public appeal to the ministry to send the team to the team for the Asian Games but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. This decision does strike a resemblance to the decision of not sending the team for the 1950 World Cup which still comes back to haunt Indian football every 4 years.
Earlier in June it was announced that the men’s team will play friendlies against China and Saudi Arabia before the Asian Cup and with the Asian Games out of picture, those two friendlies and a handful of games at the SAFF Cup could be the only match-practice the national team will get to fine tune for the big challenge.
Hope is a commonplace word in Indian football and this time we can only hope somebody makes things right. Till such time we Indians need to scavenge for pride in ‘Meri Doosri Country’.