Football in India is unique. It has been there for years, surviving in little pockets in a cricket-dominated country. And while the Gentleman's game has been reigning supreme for years, football has just started making considerable progress.
Indian football's growth has been slow and arduous. However, as a football fan, it is great to see India take big strides in recent years. Even though a majority of football fans in India are more interested in the sport's International dealings, football has finally started to turn a lot more heads domestically.
In the last few years, the Blue Tigers have risen from 173 in FIFA World Rankings to 97. They have also hosted an official FIFA event (FIFA U-17 World Cup), won the Intercontinental Cup, and qualified for the AFC Asian Cup.
This period has also been outstanding for the national team players. Sunil Chhetri, in particular, has been making waves both inside and outside the national borders due to his exceptional goal-scoring record.
Many young and talented players have also risen to the surface and joined the Blue Tigers, hoping to fulfil an age-old dream of seeing Indian football at the top.
Needless to say, these last few years have been some of the best in the memories of an Indian football fan. Seeing the recent developments, it only makes sense to encourage and exercise decisions that would ensure Indian football keeps progressing.
Contrary to it, the Indian Olympic Association has taken a decision which can prove to be harmful to Indian football in the long run.
The Significance of Absence
On the morning of July 1, All India Football Federation tweeted that the IOA has denied them the chance to send men and women football teams to Jakarta and Palembang for the Asian Games. The reasons IOA stated made the situation worse, with the ruling body stating that the decision was made due to India standing no chance at a medal.https://twitter.com/IndianFootball/status/1013360468109463552
Needless to say, IOA's decision attracted criticism from all corners.
AIFF was the first in line to criticize IOA, calling their decision myopic in nature. Players and fans followed, with many lamenting the impact this decision will have on the future of Indian football.
Let's begin with IOA's initial argument, that India stands no chance at a podium finish. This is problematic for two reasons. First, India has never been one of the most prominent countries in terms of international medals. Even after our recent showings at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, we have been inconsistent over the years at these international events.
Second, and more worrying, is the fact that IOA's statement indicates that the governing body is only interested in medals, and not actual progress. Granted that India may not win any medal in football at the Asian Games. However, IOA's short-sighted decision is denying them the chance to do so in the future as well.
IOA is also denying the Blue Tigers some much-needed exposure in front of the Indian audience. Provided that Indian football has gained a huge following in recent years, it is nearly not enough. Captain Sunil Chhetri recognized the fact when he requested the fans to come to the stadium, via a video message.
Asiad would have provided the Indian team another chance to play in front of millions watching, probably even gaining a few fans. However, their absence will no doubt hurt their prospects.
The Asian Equation
The Asian Games would have also provided the Indian team with the necessary level competition. The teams India has usually gone up in recent years have provided the Blue Tigers with little competition. In order to keep progressing, India needs to start facing tougher opposition, something which the Asiad would have been able to provide.
Finally, while the Indian team will be sitting at home, their AFC opponents will be playing in Jakarta. Asian Games would have been a great chance for India to learn a little bit more about their opponents ahead of their AFC Asian Cup campaign. All three of India's group members- UAE, Thailand, and Bahrain- are expected to send their team of young guns at the Asian Games in an effort to further mould them.
Moreover, the Asiad provides Asian countries a good boost in the footballing sphere. National sides which generally do well not only improve their position in Asia but the whole world. Past winners South Korea (2014), Japan (2010), and Iran (2002) have all done well recently, with the three nations qualifying for the FIFA World Cup as well.
Keeping everything in mind, Indian football teams' absence at the Asian Games can prove to be harmful in the long run. It brings to the fore a very worrying picture of Indian sports; One where only the end result, and not the process, matters.
The Indian Olympic Association is denying the young, budding football nation some much-needed exposure both on the pitch and off it. Therefore, it is fair to say that IOA's decision has set Indian football back a few years, right when it was at its most promising.