For two years, the Indian women’s football team had been preparing for its biggest tournament so far: the Asian Cup. However, after playing just one match, they had to withdraw from the continental championship on Sunday following a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad.
It is learnt that a dozen out of the 23 players in the group and four members of the support staff tested positive ahead of the crucial group-stage match against world number 39 Chinese Taipei. However, even as Taipei players took the field at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium at the official kick-off time, 7.30 pm, there was no one to face them on the opposite side.
With two players already out injured, and 12 testing positive for Covid, India had just nine players available for the Taipei game. Out of them, two had symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
According to tournament regulations, a team has to name a minimum of 13 players for a match to go ahead. The hosts’ ‘failure’ to do so meant they could not take part in the match, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said, and as a consequence, had to withdraw from the competition.
The AFC cited clause 4.1 from its competition rulebook, which stated that if a team has less than 13 players and is not able to participate in a match, it ‘shall be held responsible for the Match not taking place and shall be considered to have withdrawn from the relevant Competition.’
All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said the players were ‘heartbroken’ but insisted ‘this wasn’t the end of the world’ for them. “The promise on display in the first match against IR Iran was there for all to see, and am confident they will bounce back from this temporary setback,” he said.
Despite the hosts being forced out, the AFC said the show will go on in the 12-team Asian Cup. On Monday, four matches will be played as scheduled, with the 2023 World Cup hosts Australia and former world champions Japan among the teams in action.
The AFC’s decision to go ahead with the games despite a Covid-19 outbreak underlines the approach being taken by sports bodies, who continue to organise tournaments amidst global rise cases globally. Just days ago, the Indian squad at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies was hit by Covid-19 but the schedule was unaffected and the BCCI sent reinforcements.
No men’s final at Modi badminton
At the Syed Modi International Super300 event in Lucknow, the men’s singles finalists, Frenchmen, Arnaud Merkel and Lucas Claerbout were forced into isolation on Sunday after one tested positive and the other was deemed a close contact. The world governing body, BWF, had not determined what to do with ranking points, given this unprecedented situation where two opponents from the same country were involved, and the walkover was mutual – not naming the positive.
But this came to pass at the end of a torrid week where 32 matches across singles and doubles witnessed Walkovers / no matches. Assam shuttler Ashmita Chaliha had a confirmed positive on Day 1, and then the spurt of walkovers kept piling up, till the French duo were denied a final due to the virus.
Last week, the India Open had started with seven positives amongst Indians, including Kidambi Srikanth. Subsequently, Singaporean women’s singles player Yeo Jia Min had tested positive after returning home, days after having a fever when in India. The Indian jamboree now moves to Orissa for a Super 100, again risking the health of players.
For the women footballers, however, the Asian Cup was special and significant, given this was the country’s first appearance in the competition after 19 years, and on home soil.
The tournament, which doubles up as a 2023 World Cup qualifier, is being held in a bio-bubble, with no spectators allowed inside the venues and the players virtually cut off from the outside world. “Unfortunately, this happened to us despite the best measures put in place, and it is sheer bad luck that it happened to us. Let there be no fingers pointed at any. We need to understand this is a pandemic situation, and no bubble is foolproof around the world,” Patel said.
India began the competition with a goalless draw against Iran and were to take on 8-time Asian champions China on January 26, which made Sunday’s match against Taipei a must-win to keep their hopes of progressing beyond the group stage alive.
However, the team did not even travel to the stadium for the match even as four match officials and Taipei players entered the field at sharp 6.30 for the routine pre-match warm-up drills. At 7.10 pm, the Taipei players went to the dressing room to get changed. At 7.30 pm, the AFC officially called off the match.
(Inputs from Shivani Naik)
Even as sporting events are being held amidst rising cases globally, there have been several instances of players testing positive for Covid-19
Cricket: The Indian squad at the Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies was hit by Covid-19 last week, with five players testing positive. Four Zimbabwe players and two from the West Indies team, too, had tested positive.
Badminton: The men’s singles finals of the Syed Modi International Super300 event in Lucknow on Sunday was called off after one of the finalist tested positive. A total of 32 matches witnessed walkovers / no matches in the tournament. Last week, the India Open had started with seven positives amongst Indians, including Kidambi Srikanth who was staying at the official hotel.
Tennis: There have been three confirmed positive cases reported at the ongoing Australian Open. Australian Bernard Tomic tested positive after his defeat in the qualifying stage. Ugo Humbert of France, too, tested positive after his first-round loss and on Sunday, Belgian Alison van Uytvanck said she was down with the virus as well.
Football: Ahead of India’s first match of the women’s Asian Cup, two Covid-19 cases were reported within the group. Before the second game on Sunday, a total of 12 players were down with the virus along with four support staff. Isolated cases in at least four other teams were reported earlier in the week.
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