Both the men’s and women’s Indian football teams are set to miss the Hangzhou Asian Games in September. This is due to a failure in meeting the Union Sports Ministry’s criteria of being ranked in the top 8 of the continent. The AIFF, India’s board for football, had plans to send a U-23 side with coach Igor Stimac to the Hangzhou Games, but this is looking unlikely. Football teams in the Asian Games are limited to three players over the age of 23, and the remaining must be under 23 years of age.
In a letter to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the Ministry stated that only teams which are ranked in the top eight continentally should be allowed to participate in the Asian Games. It is not certain if the Ministry ever thought it was possible for the Indian national team to be in the top 8 continentally, given strong competition from well-established footballing countries like Japan, South Korea, Iran and Australia along with well-funded Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The AIFF has made it clear that it will protest this decision to the Union Sports Ministry. "This is a decision taken by the government. So, we have to abide by it. However, we will make an appeal to the government to reconsider the decision as far as football is concerned. The Indian team's performance this year has been extremely encouraging. It will be a great boost for football, especially for the U-23 boys, if they get an opportunity to play in the Asian Games,” said AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran.
Second Asian Games miss in a row for India
The Indian team missed the 2018 edition of the Asian Games for the same reason. The IOA has once again made the decision, though there might be some hope for an Indian representation at the Games.
"Where, in the opinion of the experts of specific sports disciplines, and that of Sports Authority of India, participation of individuals and teams in relaxation of the above criteria is recommended with justifiable reasons, the same will be considered in the Ministry for appropriate decision," read a letter from the Sports Ministry.
Given India’s recent purple patch of form in tournaments, it might be possible to convince the panel to allow the U-23 side to compete at the games alongside the best young talent from the continent.
India has won three medals at the Asian Games, though the last time was in 1970. In 2002 the team achieved its best result by finishing tenth.