IN A SHARPLY WORDED press release, the All India Football Federation criticised the Indian Olympic Association for not greenlighting Indian football team's participation in the Asian Games.
To be held in Indonesia next month, Asian Games were seen by the Federation as a platform to test young players ahead of the SAFF Championship as the Indian men's team bulid up to their long awaited Asian Cup campaign. For the women's team, this was an opportunity to get some competitive games after a long period of inactivity.
But the IOA have been recently cutting back on the expenses in terms of athlete participation in the Asian Games. They see the Asian Games as a preparatory event ahead of the Olympics and want to only fund individual athletes and teams who have a good chance to win a medal. They do not see the Indian teams (Men and women, U-23 with 3 senior players) as a promising prospect for the overall campaign. So they decided not to take them along.
Reacting to the development, AIFF sent out this press release,
"Despite explaining to the Indian Olympic Association that Football as a global sport needs to be looked at differently, and after having explained the tremendous success that Indian Football has achieved in the last three years which include a jump in FIFA Rankings from 173 to 97 (at present), qualification to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, the successful hosting of FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 and the various grassroots and youth developmental programmes undertaken by the AIFF, the IOA chose not to clear Indian Football Teams for the forthcoming Asian Games.
In this regard Mr. Praful Patel, President, AIFF even made a call to Mr. Narinder Batra to explain the circumstances, and accordingly letters were sent to Mr. Rajeev Mehta, Secretary General, IOA and Mr. Lalit Bhanot, Chairman, Preparation Committee, Asian Games.
However, disregarding all facts, the IOA chose to stick to its original stance of sending teams ranked between 1-8 to take part, thus turning a blind eye to Indian Football in the Continental Games.
It’s clear the IOA lacks the vision and competence to understand that Football is a global sport played by 212 countries and that the top 5 teams in Asia play in the FIFA World Cup where the level of competition is far superior to the Asian Games.
In fact, the premier football competition in Asia is the AFC Asian Cup where India has qualified after 8 years.
IOA’s stance and myopic view comes in sharp contrast to the support of both the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Sports Authority of India, both of whom who have been hugely supportive of Indian Football and recognised AIFF’s efforts in the last 3 years.
It is indeed a sad state of affairs for sport in India that the IOA is unable to distinguish the specific needs of each sport in the country. The IOA was never even bothered to even once discuss with the AIFF the strategy and plans for developing football in India."
It is rather unusual to see two sports bodies in the country puclicy criticize each other like this. But missing out on the Asian Games is a genuine setback for both the men's and the women's football teams at a time when Indian football is in desperate need for pursuing all possible avenues to achieve progress.