All we know about the fiasco surrounding the Indian football team's participation in the Asian Games

The Indian football teams are likely to miss out on the Asian Games due to their rankings.
The Indian football teams are likely to miss out on the Asian Games due to their rankings. (Image Courtesy: AIFF Media)

It's been over two weeks since the Ministry of Sport's letter, dated July 10, sent to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and all the National Sports Federations (NSFs), came out in public.

"For team events, only those sports which have achieved a ranking up to eighth among participating countries of Asia in the last year should be considered for participation in Asian Games," the letter read.

As the men's and women's senior teams are ranked 18th and 11th in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in the latest FIFA rankings, respectively, they are nowhere close to the cut-off set by the ministry.

This has led to a likely blocking of the Under-23 team's participation in the 2023 Asian Games.

If carried out, this will be the second consecutive time the Blue Tigers will give the continental competition a miss. The IOA had refused to grant permission to the Indian team on the same criteria for the 2018 edition as well.

Soon after the intention was made public, football fans took to social media in numbers to reverse the decision. Even men's national team head coach Igor Stimac came out with a statement hitting out at the sports ministry's decision and requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make an exception.

So far, there hasn't been any response from the sports ministry or concerned stakeholders. But according to multiple news outlets, steps have been taken by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) behind the scenes to make the IOA and sports ministry reconsider their decision.

According to RevSportz, on Monday, the AIFF, led by president Kalyan Chaubey, made a presentation to the ministry, highlighting the importance of the Indian football team traveling to Hangzhou. Stimac was also part of these discussions over video calls. Meetings have been happening between the two bodies for the last 24 hours as the deadline for withdrawing teams approaches rapidly.

The government has to make a decision before July 26 to withdraw entries submitted to the organizers if they deem squads in certain disciplines don't have the caliber to win medals or don't fulfill the sporting criteria.

Without an iota of doubt, both Indian football teams don't fulfill the criteria but an exception can be made on certain grounds.

“In the opinion of the experts of specific sports disciplines and that of the Sports Authority of India, participation of individuals and teams in relaxation of the above criteria is recommended with justifiable reasons, and the same will be considered in the Ministry for appropriate decision,” the Ministry’s circular, dated July 10, read.

Why is it important for the Indian football team to participate in the 2023 Asian Games?

Well, the answer is pretty simple if you look at it from the point of view of any football stakeholder in the country. Participating in the Asiad will give these Under-23 players, who might not always be called for the national team a platform to gain exposure and rub shoulders with some of the continent's finest.

If the team has been deemed eligible from the end of the organizers, there's not much argument to be made for not participating. But the government does consider the expenses that would it would incur in financing the team for Asian Games. If it isn't likely to bring home medals, then there's an argument to be made about not sending them at all.

However, most sports, especially football, aren't just dictated by numbers and rankings. Otherwise, highest-ranked teams would always come out on top and tournaments would be a bore. Football in India has been on the rise, steered forward by the performances of the senior men's team. A lot of the players in that squad are well below the age of 23 and could also participate in the Asiad.

Snatching away the opportunity from them would mean restraining their exposure ahead of what promises to be a crucial juncture in Indian football. Not even six months are left for the Asian Cup, where India will lock horns against the finest teams in the AFC.

If these opportunities aren't utilized by the government to prepare the team and set the tone, then the hope of the Blue Tigers reaching soaring heights might as well be buried forever.

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