Just when we thought that after a long time, Indian sports is back on the right track, the principal organization for Indian sports took a decision that destroyed the little expectations we had. In an extremely bizarre move, the Indian Olympic Association has refused to send the Indian football teams for the Asian Games, citing that the Indian football hasn’t done well internationally and has no chance of winning.
According to a press release by an IOA official, the Indian Olympic Association has refused to allow the Indian football team for either gender [men or women] in the Asian Games. To quote the official, “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. 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.”
While one can think of the noble intention behind sending those who can perform well but the decision to disallow the Indian football teams from participating in the Asian Games is certainly not a good idea. Going by this logic, teams like Japan, Iceland, and Egypt shouldn’t have participated in the FIFA World Cup at all. Also, Hockey India shouldn’t have sent the Indian team to FIH Champions Trophy either, since we haven’t won any Olympic medal or a World Championship in years.
Needless to say, this bizarre decision didn’t go well with anyone. While the Sports Ministry is yet to comment on this issue, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been unequivocal in its criticism. To quote an official, this decision will demoralize the footballers and the future prospects. He further added “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.”
On a serious note, it seems that IOA has forgotten the glory Indian football once had. Before Bangkok Asiad 1970, India was arguably a powerhouse in Asian football, on the same pedestal as South Korea and Japan are. They had given France a run for their money in their debut Olympics at London 1948 despite playing barefoot.
They even made the cut for FIFA World Cup 1950, though it’s another matter that lack of funds forced them to withdraw. They even won 2 Asiad gold medals [New Delhi 1951 and Jakarta 1962 Asiad respectively] and finished as runners up in 1964 Asian Cup. Lack of serious interest and official apathy led to the decline of Indian football, to an extent that we fell as low as 173rd in the FIFA rankings by 2013.
But those days are a thing of the past. Now India ranked 97th, as per the latest FIFA rankings, India is back on track, improving consistently day by day. India not only hosted the FIFA U 17 World Cup, but even gave powerful teams like USA and Colombia a tough competition. India hosted the Intercontinental Cup recently, where it won by a handsome margin against Kenya.
In such a position, not allowing the Indian football to participate in the Asian Games is not only bad but also demoralizing. True, we’re not among the best, but not allowing us to compete and improve is not good either. With such a move, India will not get used to bigger tournaments, or even make a mark of its own.
Our Indian women’s football team is among the top 60 nations of women’s football, as per the latest FIFA rankings. Imagine with a little bit of support and boost, what wonders would they perform? While one can’t deny that IOA has improved a lot with respect to the conduct towards Indian sports and sportspersons, but this is certainly not acceptable by any mark. A suggestion to remove the underperformers would’ve been good, but disallowing the team from participating altogether is so not fair!