The Asian Games are approaching and like before every edition, the uncertainty over the participation of the Indian football team refuses to end. In years gone by, the team was considered a no-hoper and often a drain on resources. But of late, the Indian team has had an impressive run of results and its FIFA ranking has also improved to its current standing of 97. But the team is still not making the cut according to the prescribed criteria of performance equivalent to the top 8 at the last Asian Games.
“The Indian Olympic Association will be the body under fire if a large contingent fails to bring back an acceptable number of medals. That’s why we have put these criteria in place. We don’t want any passengers in our contingent who don’t deserve to be there,” IOA president Narinder Dhruv Batra said.
Apart from the lack of noteworthy performances at the continental level in previous editions, the fact that India is still ranked 15th in Asia is working against the football team. But it is undeniable that there has been an improvement in recent years, and coach Stephen Constantine has even guided Sunil Chhetri & Co. to the Asian Cup finals to be held early next year. But the Asian Games will feature football as an under-23 sport, with only three players above that age limit allowed. There is no ranking for that age group.
“The criteria are not hard and fast ones, but just guidelines. We cannot punish sports that are on an upward curve and have even qualified for the continental championship. Such cases need to be discussed thoroughly before a final decision is taken,” IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta said. As things stand now, even though the football team fails to make the cut according to the criteria set by the IOA, all seems not lost. The IOA has sent a long list of its contingent comprising as many as 2,370 members (including 1,938 athletes) for Jakarta. It has to be drastically pruned by the deadline. It remains to be seen in how many cases the criteria mentioned is applied.
Expression of interest
The IOA’s Executive Council meeting on Saturday also decided to submit Expression of Interest for several major events, starting with the International Olympic Committee Congress 2021, Youth Olympics 2026, Asian Games 2030 and the 2032 Olympics.
Ever since Batra took office last December, he has made no secret of his desire to bid for big-ticket events. He had said so when IOC president Thomas Bach visited the country a couple of months ago. “We are yet to discuss this matter with the governments at the centre or the states. An Expression of Interest is just the first step which shows that we are serious about this issue,” Batra said. “But to achieve that, we need to raise our medal tally at big events. We have set a target of a double-digit medal tally at Tokyo 2020 and 20 medals at Paris 2024.” In light of the positive dope test of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sanjita Chanu, the IOA has put in place a no-needle policy, as was in operation at the Gold Coast Games. “We have a zero tolerance to doping and don’t want our athletes to be caught off guard when such measures are in place at overseas events. There should be no surprise element. That’s why we have decided to have a no-needle policy at training camps and competitions in India as well as anywhere the athletes train,” the IOA president said.
After shuttler Saina Nehwal threatened to pull out of the Gold Coast CWG if her father was not accommodated at the Games Village, the IOA was put in an awkward situation.
Mehta said there was no provision of parents and relatives going as part of the contingent. “When the athlete in question said she won’t play, we managed to find a spare pass for her father. We have no separate category of parents as part of the contingent and can’t accommodate them as such,” he said.