In a heartbreaking development on Sunday, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed that the Indian team was considered withdrawn from the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. With a dozen players testing positive for Covid-19, the Indians were unable to field a team against Chinese Taipei that day. And the tight programme leaves no room for rescheduling. To understand what a big blow this is to the women’s team, one should factor in not just that they had been preparing for this moment for two years, but also that this was their biggest tournament so far. That India is actually hosting this continental championship made this an even more unusual opportunity.
After the Indian women’s hockey team reached their first-ever Olympic semi-final last year, by defeating pre-tournament favorites Australia 1-0, there was a broad acknowledgement of how the country can really improve in women’s team sports by bringing them out of the shadows of men’s teams. A key ask here is more opportunities to play international faceoffs, besides more domestic women’s leagues.
So, the lost opportunity here being so significant, questions are understandably being raised about whether there was laxity in managing the biobubble for the Indian football team. One such question is whether the team was kept training in hotspot Kerala for too long, traveling to Mumbai only in mid-January. Yesterday the India coach took the blame game in a new direction by pointing the finger at AFC’s management of Covid protocols. But this sits quite oddly with the special rules applicable to AFC competitions during the Covid-19 pandemic, which put the responsibility for maintaining the biobubble and testing squarely on the host organization – which in this case is the All India Football Federation.
Brushing these questions under the carpet would be great disservice to our women’s team. They are the hosts, yet they are stuck in quarantined isolation while 11 visiting nations play on. In addition to a proper inquiry into the matter, they also deserve to know what international tourneys will be made available to them to make up for the one that they have so painfully lost here.
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