Several sportspersons risk being eliminated from the Asian Games contingent after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) recommended a staggering 912 athletes and officials in 28 disciplines to the Sports Authority of India (SAI). The SAI, on Monday, began the process of vetting through the long list submitted by the IOA, with an official saying they will “definitely prune it down” to ensure undeserving athletes do not board the flight to Incheon next month.
The Asian Games is scheduled to be held at the South Korean port city from September 19 to October 4. The final call on the issue, however, will be taken by sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal this week.
“We have received names of 912 athletes and officials from the IOA. The number is unexpected and huge. Even though the government’s expense is not much, it doesn’t make sense sending a huge crowd without proportionate medal hopes,” an official said.
Among those facing the chop is the football team. SAI is considering the option of withdrawing the team from the event and is likely to send a letter to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to find out if it is a viable option. At the last Asian Games, the football team had made the pre-quarterfinals but the team’s performances since then have been far from desirable.
“The team hasn’t been doing well at all of late and they have been drawn in a very tough group that consists of UAE and Jordan. We are not sure if it is possible to withdraw the team so late, but we will consult the AIFF first,” the official said.
IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta refused to comment, saying he was on leave and would resume work on Tuesday. Another senior functionary said they have forwarded all the names received from various federations and the provisional list has already been forwarded to the organising committee.
“At the end of the day, it is the government who will be paying so it should be their call. On our part, we will push for the inclusion of as many athletes as possible, as recommended by various federations,” the IOA member said.
The SAI is likely to impose certain criteria for the selection of athletes, with winnability being the foremost norm. “We are planning to keep the previous Asian Games as the benchmark. Those who finished below the eighth position four years ago should not be sent. We will take a final decision on this soon,” the official said, adding, “The IOA, in anticipation of government’s approval, has sent the list so there is no problem with accreditation. We will go through the list meticulously before arriving at a final decision. We will make our recommendations to the sports minister and, ultimately, it is up to him whether to go with such a jumbo list or prune it down.”
Unlike the Olympics, the Indian participation in the team and individual events at the Asian Games is much higher. Four years ago at the Guangzhou Asiad, India had sent 625 athletes in 36 disciplines and managed to win 65 medals, including 14 gold. Even for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the list of athletes submitted by the IOA was around 275, which was pruned to 215 by the sports ministry.