CHENNAI: Coaches of both the Malaysian and the South Korean teams questioned the wisdom of conducting the Asian Champions Trophy so close to the Asian Games, an Olympic qualifying event.
While India coach, Craig Fulton, saw the benefits of getting some game time, he 'understood' where they came from.
"To organise a tournament five weeks before a major event, an Olympic qualifying event, I'm curious to know what's the reason behind it. I am sure some of us know why," was how Arul Selvaraj, Malaysia coach, put it in a pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday.
South Korea coach, Seok Kyo Shin, was more blunt. "I don't like this tournament because next month we have the Asian Games," he said.
If nothing, this sort of sentiment neatly captures the 12 years of the men's ACT. It began in 2011 in China, with India beating Pakistan in a shoot-out. It was held yearly in 2012 and 2013 before it was put on ice for three years. It was revived in 2016, a few months after the Olympics. In 2018, it was held a few months before the home World Cup in Bhubaneswar. In 2021, it was held a few months after the Olympics when a mix-and-match India team finished third.
Why did Selvaraj express such strong views against it? "It's just 5 weeks before the Asian Games," he said. "Also it's a hectic tournament with seven matches in 10 days, which is really tough. Normally teams use this period to go on tours where they play two matches and have a break hopefully we look into this and make sure it doesn't happen in the future."
While Fulton understood that point of view, he was of the opinion that more the games, better it is. "We need the games, important we play," he said during a press conference later on Tuesday. "Nice to come to Chennai after a long time. There are positives and negatives. I understand the clash and timing but we need the games."
However, the South Africans did confess that they will use the tournament as a 'training and preparation phase'. "The main focus is on us," he said. "We have a slightly different group, two new players joining. We have the rest of the guys that came from Spain who would be training alongside the team that plays in the tournament... all our staff and everyone is here. So, we are using this as still a training and preparation phase for the Asian Games."
When Harmanpreet Singh was asked a similar question on getting ready for this tournament two days after playing a tournament in Spain, he opined that the team has never had such a short turnaround time. On Sunday, the men's team played the Netherlands in the four-nations invitational. On Thursday, they face China in their opening match. "Back-to-back tournaments, we get some time. One week, two weeks... but suddenly a gap of only four days. It will be difficult and it's also a new turf so players may take time to adjust. It will be difficult but it will be the same for all teams."
The Korean coach also expressed his displeasure with the scheduling which sees them play at 4.00 PM in each of their first three group games. "Our first, second and third matches are 4 pm matches. I don't like that. Only India is playing at 8.30 pm with cooler conditions. I don't understand that. Is it because India is the host? Mixed timings for everyone would have been better," he said
"Seven matches in 10 days are possible, not a problem, but the problem is it's so close to the Asian Games. If anyone gets injured here, they cannot play in the Asian Games. We have come here with a full team, apart from two injuries," the Korean coach added.