India head coach Igor Stimac on Monday sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention for the national football team's participation at the upcoming Asian Games despite not meeting the selection criteria.
Team deserves to participate, don't deny us
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had planned that Stimac would take an Under-23 side to the Asian Games in Hangzhou, starting from September 23.
However, since the Indian football team does not meet the Sports Ministry's criteria of being ranked among the top-8 sides, it is set to miss the continental event.
"I wanted to bring to your immediate attention that our U-17 team from 2017, which also gave a great performance at the U-23 World Cup qualifiers and is one very talented team, is now being deprived from participating in the Asian games," Stimac wrote in a lengthy social media post.
Besides Modi, Stimac also appealed to Sports Minister Anurag Thakur.
"This team really needs and deserves the participation. The reasons given are unjust and as India's national team coach, I felt it's important to immediately bring this matter to your and the Hon'ble Sports Minister Anurag Thakur's knowledge.
"So that you could intervene and help the team participate in the Asian Games." India is currently ranked 18th among countries under the Asian Football Confederation.
"As our own ministry is denying the participation on the context of ranking, whereas the fact is that our football team is better ranked than some of the other sports teams which have been allowed participation in the Asian games.
"Also history and statistics are testimony to the fact that football is one sport where a lower ranked team has a chance to beat the top ranked teams," the Croatian wrote.
Stimac urges for central intervention
In a letter sent to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and all the National Sports Federations (NSFs), the Sports Ministry has said that "for team events, only those sports that have achieved a ranking up to eighth among participating countries in Asia in the last one year should be considered for participation in Asian Games".
Since 2002, football at the Asian Games has been a U-23 affair, with three players above that age also permitted in a team.
"India hosted the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017 and invested heavily in building a very fine new generation of players.
"You have always supported India's dream of playing in FIFA World Cup one day and I am certain that if we have your continuous support in the manner we have received till date, the day is not far when we will be at the global stage participating in the most prestigious tournaments.
"We as a national team have worked extremely hard in the last 4 years and managed some great results, proving that we can achieve more if we get the support from all stakeholders," he said in his request to the Prime Minister.
Possibility for reversal in decision
There is a provision in the Sports Ministry's instructions sent to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and NSFs, that could give a ray of hope to the football squad.
“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 (top 8) is recommended with justifiable reasons, the same will be considered in the Ministry for appropriate decision," the ministry letter said.
It was only last week that Modi spoke about French footballer Kylian Mbappe being a "superhit" among the youth in India and that the World Cup winner is probably known to more people in India than in France.
"Your speech about football and Mbappe in your recent visit to France also touched all Indians dreaming of and rooting for Indian football." "So my humble appeal and sincere request on behalf of the entire Indian football fraternity to you, to kindly allow our football team to particiapte in the Asian Games," Stimac concluded.