Insisting they won’t allow any ‘passengers’, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), on Saturday, omitted the men and women’s football teams from the Asian Games contingent. A senior IOA official said football teams were excluded because they ‘did not stand a chance to compete for medals’.
The decision comes as a massive setback to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), who were hoping to use the Asian Games as one of the key tournaments in the build up to next year’s Asian Cup. Livid with the decision, the AIFF is likely to raise the issue with sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, hoping that the IOA will reverse its stand.
Football is the only high-profile sport which has been omitted from India’s entry list, which was finalised on Saturday – the last day to submit the entries. Football is classified as a priority sport by the sports ministry but a senior IOA official said they were simply sticking to the guidelines set by the government.
“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,” a senior IOA official said. “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.”
According to government guidelines, which have been enforced by the IOA as well, only those teams which have achieved ranking up to eighth among nations competing at the Asian Games will be considered for participation. The men’s team is ranked 97th in the world and 14th in Asia, whereas the women’s team, placed 60th in the world, are 13th in the continent. These norms have been relaxed in certain cases, but a ministry official insisted they will be strictly implemented on this occasion.
With the Asian Cup barely four months after the Games, it is argued that the Asiad is a necessary exposure for the team. “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,” an AIFF official said.
This isn’t the first time football teams were on the chopping block. It was a similar case four years ago but a timely intervention by AIFF president Praful Patel saved the day for them. They went on to lose all their matches, forcing the IOA to take the drastic step of omitting them from the contingent list.