By India Today Sports Desk: All India Football Federation (AIFF) chief Kalyan Chaubey reckons that the return of Indian football teams to the Asian Games for the first time in nine years will increase players’ confidence.
The Sports Ministry paved the way for India’s men’s and women’s football teams to compete in the continental event on Wednesday by lowering its selection standards. Chaubey described it as a significant day for the country’s sport.
“It’s indeed an important day for Indian Football and a testament to our resolution to develop the sport in India,” an elated Chaubey said, reacting to the development.
The Blue Tigers, led by Sunil Chhetri, recently won the Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championships.
“Indian football has been on an unprecedented rise recently, and I believe this impetus will further boost our players’ morale in all upcoming events,” Chaubey said.
“It’s my honour to represent the AIFF and with moments like this, it further encourages our steadfast commitment to continue developing the ecosystem in the country.”
“We thank the Government of India and the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs for their support and for providing special compensation to Indian Football for the 19th Asian Games.”
The Sports Ministry, in a letter sent to the IOA and all National Sports Federations (NSFs), stated that “for team events, only sports that have achieved a ranking of up to eighth among participating countries of Asia in the last one year should be considered for participation in Asian Games.”
The men’s team is now ranked 18th in Asia, while the women’s team is ranked 11th, both of which are far below the top-eight requirement for participation in the Asian Games last year.
The India men’s team head coach, Igor Stimac, then asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s involvement, while the AIFF also requested that the rules be relaxed.
“It’s a great day for Indian football and an enormously encouraging decision by the honourable Sports Minister Anurag Thakur ji and our government!” Stimac said.
“Big thanks to all of them for allowing us the opportunity to challenge the best teams in the Asian Games.”
AIFF Secretary General, Dr Shaji Prabhakaran said: “It is very encouraging for Indian Football that the Government has allowed the participation of men’s and women’s football teams in the Asian Games.
“This decision of the MYAS has further encouraged all our stakeholders, and with the game time at Asian Games, our players will gain tremendous exposure playing against some of the giants in Asian football.
“We will continue to work hard with a focus to deliver success on and off the pitch and reach our goals as per Strategic Roadmap Vision 2047.”
The Indian men’s team won gold in the inaugural event in New Delhi in 1951, and then again in Jakarta in 1962. Their last medal at the event occurred in 1970 in Bangkok, and they have yet to make the podium in the continental extravaganza since then. In its previous two outings, the women’s team finished eighth in Bangkok in 1998 and ninth in Incheon in 2014.