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Asian Games

Dear AIFF: Let's talk pride, shame, and Indian Football

Indian men's football team did not lose to Saudi Arabia, they lost to the authorities.

Dear AIFF: Lets talk pride, shame, and Indian Football
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Asian Games 2023: Can Sunil Chhetri's men make it into the knockout rounds?
By

Aswathy Santhosh

Updated: 29 Sep 2023 8:47 AM GMT

The Indian men's football team has been eliminated from the Asian Games 2023. They lost to Saudi Arabia 0-2 in pre-quarterfinals, as we observed from the ground zero. However, it's the people running the show of Indian football and the federation that failed the team not Saudi Arabia. These players, who fight for the nation's pride, are being controlled like marionettes, with ropes tied to their hands and ends secured with the authorities.

The drama

The Indian men's team's success in the SAFF Championship created quite a buzz, not just because it marked another south Asian annexation (India being the most successful in SAFF) but primarily because of our victory over Pakistan. However, a few weeks later came the shocking news that the Indian football teams wouldn't be participating in the Hangzhou Asian Games due to unfavorable rankings.

Rankings don't always dictate sporting success; we've seen Saudi Arabia defeat world champions Argentina at the FIFA World Cup in last November, and other countries excel on the global stage. However, we do agree with the decision not to send the football teams. Why, you ask? It's because the Indian football teams shouldn't meet the "criteria" of Asian Games qualification due to the federation's shortcomings.

While some attribute this decision to fans' protests, there was a political game at play in the corridors of power to secure us two tickets to the Asian Games. Union sports minister Anurag Thakur himself announced on X, former Twitter, that the football teams should go, and everyone celebrated Indian football teams' return to the quadrennial event.

Timeline

Anurag Thakur's post announcing both men's and women's football teams' participation in the Asian Games came on July 26. Fixture information, or at least tentative dates, was available as early as the beginning of August. The Indian Super League (ISL) fixtures were not confirmed until the end of August, primarily due to the delay in confirming the best possible fixtures.

It's bewildering that the AIFF didn't attempt to persuade the FSDL, the body which operates the ISL, to postpone the league until after the Asian Games. A two-week delay should have sufficed, but no such efforts were made. Time was of the essence, and the federation had nearly a month to convince FSDL to modify the schedule.

But hey, did they actually needed time to "convince" when AIFF is indeed has a say in the final the schedule of the nation's first tier league. For a fact, the national team head coach Igor Stimac also plays a role in this.

But on September 6 that federation president Kalyan Chaubey posted an article headlined, "AIFF chief Kalyan Chaubey has decided to convince the organizers of the ISL – Reliance group-owned Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) – to defer the league by at least 10 days to allow players to participate in Asiad." The irony in this situation is evident.

The leaks

While federation's late attempt to find a solution was breaking no ground, the coach Igor Stimac, desperate, kept flooding social media with his antics. When football governing bodies across the world find solution to club-country conflict internally, the skeleton of Indian football was in the public domain.

On the flip side, combined with his explosive interviews, it has certainly garnered Stimac some enemies among the top brass of AIFF and clubs. He has turned himself into nobody's friend while trying to potray himself as a crusader of Indian football.

When Stimac was trying to be bold by making claims and striking observations about Indian football, his own misdeed saw him drawing ire from almost everyone. Whether Stimac hired an astrologer is a year-old news, and the culprit back then was former federation head Praful Patel and secretary Kushal Das. Suddenly, numerous leaks about Stimac surfaced, and no one can convince me that these weren't driven by this animosity. People didn't even seem to care about the timing of these leaks. Overnight, Stimac became a villain.

Social media sympathy

The upper brass frequently voices their pride on social media regarding the team's sacrifices. Instead of pride, they should be feeling shame, considering that the team was compelled to play without adequate rest. The possibility of career-ending injuries due to sleep deprivation is a legitimate concern. Mere social media posts pledging support during difficult times are inadequate.

We've witnessed this scenario play out repeatedly, with players struggling to support their families after suffering injuries. Taking accountability and swift action, rather than composing lengthy paragraphs, is imperative. These players exceeded our expectations on the pitch, battling exhaustion and catching only a few hours of sleep in airport lounges. They deserve more.

Thank you but please speak up

To the team: Rest assured, no fan who comprehends the hardships you faced will turn their back on your sacrifices. We take immense pride in your achievements. But we also implore you to speak up when necessary.

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