Asian Games 2018: AIFF's misunderstanding of sports ministry directive prime reason behind their angst against IOA
The IOA has not stated specific reasons for not clearing the football team to compete in the upcoming Asian Games but their decision clearly traces its roots to a government letter that suggests the Games are not meant to be exposure trips.
The Asian Games should not be the stage on which Indian athletes and teams secure international exposure. The continental showpiece has to be the most important competition for its athletes and teams, especially for those who are some distance from making an impact at an Olympic Games. It is the platform from which they make known their aspiration of climbing the higher reaches.
For long, some of us have held the belief that the Asian Games, or for that matter, Commonwealth Games (in some disciplines) and Olympic Games, is not the platform on which Indian players must only gain competitive experience. The respective National Federations must work towards getting their athletes competition in continental tournaments and elsewhere.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has not stated specific reasons for not clearing the football team to compete in the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia but their decision clearly traces its roots to a government letter of 10 March, 2015, and is not some random thought. It echoes the philosophy that the Asian Games is not meant to provide competitive exposure.
Unlike in the past when IOA would forward recommendations from all National Federations, it has attempted to be the first checkpoint before the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) sits in judgement. IOA has sought to do the basic housekeeping to ensure that India does not send a contingent of athletes without the promise of them being competitive.
The philosophy behind the ministry’s letter is clear, and it is not a surprise that the IOA has embraced that, even if meant that some of its member federations would be upset with such a decision. The challenge for IOA would have been to employ these criteria across all disciplines and we will have to wait to see the entire list to see if this is the case.
By playing victim and harping on how the IOA chose to ignore the development of the sport in the country by keeping it out of the Asian Games fray, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is exposing its poor preparedness. The statements by its officials are an indication of them being unaware of the MYAS directive to only send individuals who have attained standards equal to sixth place in the last Games and teams which have got at least eighth rank in the continent.
It is just as well that IOA chose to ignore AIFF’s repeated plea that the Indian team rose from 173 in the FIFA world ranking in 2015 to 97 now. The Federation officials clearly overlooked the fact that the Asian Games is a competition predominantly for Under-23 players and the ranking of the senior team is of little relevance.
In the absence of a ranking system, it was imperative that the Indian U-23 team finish among the top eight in the Asian U-23 Championship held in China. It is pertinent to note that India did not qualify for the 16-team event, losing to Syria and Qatar and beating Turkmenistan and not progressing to even the play-off stage in the qualifying tournament.
Back in 2014, after the high-profile intervention by AIFF President Praful Patel, the Indian team went to the Asian Games and lost both its group league games. It was at the receiving end of a 0-5 drubbing at the hands of United Arab Emirates in Hwaseong and, a week later, lost 0-2 to Jordan in Incheon.
Just for the record, the three players who were above 23 years of age in that team were midfielder Francis Fernandes (28) and forwards Robin Singh (24) and Sunil Chhetri (30). The team finished 26th out of 29 squads that took part in the exposure trip. That is perhaps one reason the AIFF President has not joined the debate this time.
There can be no doubt that AIFF has only itself to blame for Asian Games fiasco. To point fingers at IOA — and even attempt to drive a wedge between the IOA and the MYAS — was a tacit admission of its own failures to focus on the possibility of sending the squad to the Asian Games in Indonesia.
Of course, Indian football has shown some intent of evolving as a competitive nation in the recent years. But that alone should be no reason for it to be given a ticket to the Asian Games. Such intent must be backed by performance. By speaking of underwriting the team’s expenses in the Asian Games, AIFF officials confirmed that they have not read the March 2015 letter of the Ministry.
If indeed AIFF were serious about fielding a team at the Asian Games, despite the national squad not qualifying for the 16-team Asian U-23 Championship, it would have put together at least a training camp for the probables. The AIFF Director (national teams) Abhishek Yadav said the Federation was considering calling up the U-17 World Cup players for the camp.
Considering? With just over two months left for the start of the Games in Jakarta and Palembang?
Instead of getting its act together and showing its seriousness for anyone who was looking for it, unnamed AIFF officials kept telling the media that the team had been cleared to participate in the Asian Games. Such smug attitude was going to hurt someone in the end.
On its part, IOA must get serious about implementing the laid down selection standards across all disciplines at an early stage. It must be regularly in touch with its member federations and appraise itself of their plans. At the moment, it has left that task entirely to Sports Authority of India.
Yet, if the 2018 Asian Games are any indication, IOA has got involved in the selection process of a number of disciplines. Its proactive role in cases as wide-ranging as equestrianism and gymnastics can become a benchmark. If in equestrianism it was addressing athletes’ complaints, in gymnastics it was hand-holding a federation that was groping in the dark.
It is too early to state that this is the game that ends up costing India qualification to the latter stages.
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