July 27, 2023
In a momentous decision, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has given the green signal to both the Indian men’s and women’s football teams to participate in the prestigious Asian Games 2023. The news was confirmed by Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on his official Twitter account, sparking jubilation among football fans across the nation.
Earlier, it was announced that the Indian teams would not be participating in the Asian Games due to existing criteria set by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). The decision was based on the teams’ rankings in Asia, where powerhouses like Japan and South Korea regularly compete. However, the government’s criteria were relaxed following widespread appeals from various corners, including prominent figures from the Indian football fraternity, fans, and national team head coach Igor Stimac.
Coach Stimac played a vital role in advocating for the team’s participation, and he even appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi through a lengthy social media post. Fans also took to various social media platforms, trending hashtags and supporting the cause, further strengthening the campaign for the teams’ inclusion.
Football at the Asian Games is restricted to an Under-23 age group, with only three senior players allowed in each team. With the quadrennial event scheduled from September 23 to October 8, it presents an interesting challenge for the selection of those three players who will travel with the sides.
The men’s team will also be participating in the King’s Cup in Thailand, which is set to take place from September 7 to 10. On the other hand, the women’s team has crucial Round 2 AFC Olympic Qualifiers fixtures shortly after the tournament. These qualifiers will be held between October 26 and November 1 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where India will face tough opponents such as Japan, Vietnam, and the hosts, Uzbekistan, in Group C fixtures.
The decision to allow the Indian football teams’ participation is seen as a significant boost for the sport in the country. The men’s team, fresh from their triumph in the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championships, have climbed to the 99th spot in the latest FIFA rankings. Meanwhile, the women’s team showcased their prowess by securing a spot in the second round of Olympic qualifiers with an impressive 5-0 win against Kyrgyz Republic in the first round Group G match.
India’s current ranking at 18 as per the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) meant that they did not initially meet the sports ministry’s criteria of being among the top-8 sides in the continent. However, with recent successes and strong public support, the decision to allow the teams’ participation in the Asian Games aims to provide a platform for young talents and further raise the profile of football in India.
As the preparations intensify and the excitement builds, football fans eagerly await the action-packed spectacle in Hangzhou, China, where the Blue Tigers and Blue Tigress will proudly represent the nation on the grand stage of the Asian Games 2023.