CHENNAI: The coronavirus outbreak has claimed one more high profile victim with FIFA taking the decision to postpone the U-17 Women's World Cup which was scheduled to be held in the country in November.
The decision was taken late on Friday night at a meeting of FIFA's dedicated COVID-19 working group where it was also decided to postpone the U-20 Women's World Cup scheduled to be held in Panama and Costa Rica in August and September.
"The All India Football Federation and Local Organising Committee are supportive of the decision by FIFA to postpone FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup," said a statement issued by the Local Organising Committee of the tournament.
"We agree that this has been made with the highest regard for public health, and the participating teams, host cities, staff and visiting fans, and keeps the best interests of everyone in mind. We were, of course, looking forward to hosting the Tournament in November this year, but at the same time, we are mindful of all those around the world and in our country potentially impacted by our decisions," the statement added.
"For us at the moment, the primary concern is the health and wellbeing of every stakeholder involved in the Tournament. We don’t want to take any risk that is detrimental to our community before it is clear that there is no threat to people’s health due to this pandemic. The LOC and the AIFF will work with FIFA to determine the most suitable dates for the tournament. We look forward to hosting a successful tournament in the near future," it went on to say.
It was only a matter of time before the tournament was postponed for the coronavirus outbreak had severely affected the qualifying process for the tournament. Only the Asian qualifying process had been completed with India, Japan and North Korea qualifying.
The African U-17 Women's World Cup qualifying tournament had got underway but the final leg of the competition in May now looks unlikely to be held.
The CONCACAF (North American) qualifiers were scheduled for April, but had been postponed with no new dates announced, as had the U-17 UEFA Women's Championships which were scheduled for May.
The South American qualifiers, which were scheduled for March, had been postponed to late August, just a couple of months before the tournament.
The most curious case, however, is that of the Oceania qualifiers which had been originally scheduled for September last year. However, a mass measles outbreak in the region had forced the shifting of the tournament to April. Those plans were scuppered again when the coronavirus outbreak started spreading.
One significant question though would be whether the age restrictions for the tournament would be relaxed if it ends up being held in 2021. Current rules allow players born on or before January 1, 2003 and if these are retained, it would effectively make it a U-18 World Cup.
However, changing the eligibility criteria would severely affect the preparation of teams like India who've been working with the same group of players for a couple of years.
A clue to how FIFA would proceed in this regard was found in the same press communication — they decided to keep the eligibility criteria the same for next year's Olympics (players born in and after 1997 with three additional players).