It was the kind of faux pas that only Indian sports officials seem capable of. On Friday, the entire country celebrated after news broke that India's U-17 football team, had defeated Italy 2-0. It was a result that was almost too good to believe. India is ranked 100th, Italy has won four World Cups. In short, there’s no comparison. Press releases sent by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) trumpeted the achievement in no uncertain terms; ‘Italian national team’ was stressed multiple times. Congratulations poured in—among the first to tweet were cricketer Virender Sehwag and Sports Minister Vijay Goel.
But then it started falling apart. In reality, India had defeated a team of youth players from clubs in the third division of Italian football. They might not even qualify to be Italy's tenth strongest youth team, let alone the national team which has players with Champions League experience. Once these facts got out and the inevitable backlash started, the federation came up with a defence. They really had been misled, they claimed, and were not aware that India was not playing Italy's main U-17 side. They had filled up the necessary documentations and put out the strongest players to meet whatever team Italy's football body put out. Attaching the blame to AIFF would be unfair, they claimed.
If the AIFF's act of misinformation was unintentional, then it was downright amateurish. A simple web-search would have revealed the players in the Italian U-17 side. Moreover, they were eliminated from the U-17 European championships just days ago and it was unlikely that they would have agreed to a friendly while the tournament was on. When India has a coach like Luis Norton de Matos, who knows his way around the European youth circuit, the argument that they were unaware falls flat. The biggest losers of this fiasco are the U-17 kids. Their win, against players who had access to better facilities, was commendable, but in falsely portraying it as an earth-shattering achievement, the AIFF has surrounded them with negativity.