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Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) hide and seek game with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) finally ended on a bitter note as both the Men’s and Women’s football team were not given a clearance for the upcoming 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. Senior team coach Stephen Constantine had previously urged the governing body to send the footballers to the mega event as it will give them a valuable exposure. But thanks to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) hopefully they’ll save the money for better things, considering the fact that the development of Indian football is not a part of their priority list! "It's clear the IOA lacks the vision and competence to understand that football is a global sport played by 212 countries and that the top 5 teams in Asia play in the FIFA World Cup where the level of competition is far superior to the Asian Games," stated the AIFF. This will be the first time since the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games that India won’t field a football team! Surprisingly, the omission of the ‘Blue Tigers’ came after a series of memorable performance in the International stage in recent times. A steep rise in the rankings coupled with qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup has given higher hopes in the future. But India can improve only if they participate in big-ticket events, so this step is a bizarre one and is not going to help the cause. As per the IOA, only the national teams which are ranked from 1-8 will be cleared for the Asian Games, whereas the Indian Football Team, which is ranked 14th in Asia was overlooked. “It is indeed a sad state of affairs for sport in India that the IOA is unable to distinguish the specific needs of each sport in the country. The IOA was never even bothered to even once discuss with the AIFF the strategy and plans for developing football in India,” quoted the AIFF.
Where has it gone wrong?India may not be a force to reckon with in terms of football in the globe and maybe in Asia too, but the ‘Blue Tigers’ also had its glory days. There was a time when Indian footballers dictated terms in the continent. How could anyone possibly guess that the tri-colour was waving high during the 1951 and the 1962 Asian Games as the 11 footballers stood on top of the podium having the better of heavyweights like Iran and South Korea? Sailen Manna and Chuni Goswami, two of India’s greatest footballers lead the team in the respective triumphs. Image: Novy Kapadia/Barefoot to Boots The fact that teams like Iran, South Korea and Saudi Arabia are playing in the FIFA World Cup and India is struggling to attend regularly in the AFC Asian Cup is pretty disappointing.
A runner-up during the 1968 edition of the quadrennial event, it was probably the last successful campaign in the ‘Golden Era of Indian Football.’ Since then, it has been on the decline until the recent batch which has punched above its weight, but there’s still a long way to go and proper planning should be given top priority if India is to emerge as a football powerhouse. Where do we lack? Why have other countries progressed so much even though we were on par with them a few decades ago? Merely introducing a glamorous football league may not be enough if we have lingering fallacies inside our own system. Captions like “Let’s football” and “Football takes over” seems to be useless if the sport is neglected where it really needs attention. Spending millions on foreigners for the football leagues to improve the standard of local footballers will go in vain if they to do get a platform to showcase their talent. Even though the Asian Games in mainly an Under-23 affair, it would have helped youngsters to get a taste of International football.
Iran and South Korea have impressed in Russia with South Korea defeating the defending World Champions Germany 2-0 and showing them the door. On the other hand, India hardly gets to play a match with the top Asian teams because they are not inclined to play a weaker team like India!