Insisting that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) needs to sync its calendar with FIFA dates on priority basis, India coach Stephen Constantine has said broadcasters should not dictate the scheduling of the domestic season.
India have struggled to find opponents to play friendly matches on days reserved by FIFA, leaving the national team with little exposure going into important matches. Constantine believes things can improve if the AIFF sorts out its calendar, stressing they cannot afford to think about TV ratings while preparing the domestic schedule.
Scheduling has been a nightmare for the AIFF for far too long for reasons ranging from logistical to meeting broadcasters’ needs. The broadcasters are not keen on televising I-League matches during primetime hours on weekends, which often forces the AIFF to conduct matches in the afternoon, when temperatures are high. Not only has it kept spectators away, it has also severely impacted the quality of the game.
Then, there’s the ISL. The three-month window granted to the fledgling tournament has cramped the calendar to such an extent that the AIFF had to do away with the Federation Cup and also sacrifice on the national team’s international friendlies last year. Constantine wants the AIFF to draw up the calendar in such a way that the national team can play matches on the days reserved for it by FIFA.
“Is it that difficult to sync your calendar? It’s not when you’ve the development of the game (as target). It is when you’re thinking about TV ratings, maybe. It is when you’re thinking about other things,” the 52-year-old said after India’s goalless draw against Nepal in Monday’s friendly in Pune.
“I hope all the powers that be, whoever they are, sit around a table and say what do we want for Indian football? It’s not possible that a TV station can tell us when we can start our season. But that seems to be one of the problems…”
Constantine’s frustration with the AIFF’s inability to sync the calendar was apparent when he jokingly said ‘he wasn’t looking forward’ to the SAFF Cup draw which will be held in Delhi on September 17. Or perhaps, he was just half-joking.
The SAFF Cup will be held in Thiruvananthapuram from December 23, just three days after the second edition of the ISL concludes. Constantine said he would rather field an Under-19 side for the tournament instead of the senior team. “I would play an U-19 team (for SAFF Cup) if I had my choice. For us, SAFF is not as important as it used to be. We want to develop our young national team players,” he said.
However, he expressed his displeasure at the timing of the tournament. The coach said he had asked that the tournament be held in June after the Guam match. However, to conduct the SAFF Championships just three days after the ISL ‘defies logic’, he added. “Problem I have with SAFF is the timing. I had asked it to be held after the Guam game in June when I had the players together for a couple of weeks. For reasons unknown to me, it’s December,” Constantine said, adding, “Now, the ISL final is on December 20. And then on 23rd you start the SAFF. So I would not be able to take players from four teams who are in the semifinal… I have to decide when I can start the camp. For me, it defies logic — from our point of view.”