KOCHI: The All India Football Federation has looked to use tournaments like the ongoing AFC Women's Asian Cup and upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup to try and take women's football forward. The AIFF president Praful Patel who is also a FIFA council member has spoken about how India was planning to bid for the 2027 men's Asian Cup after the successful hosting of the FIFA U-17 men's World Cup in 2017 to demonstrate the strides made by the nation in the sport.
Sunday's events, however, have proved to be a major setback as India's campaign in the ongoing Asian Cup comes to a disappointing end.
India's second Group A game against Chinese Taipei on Sunday had to be called off after the Indian camp saw a major Covid-19 outbreak, and based on the AFC guidelines, their campaign looks all but over. "Following several positive cases of COVID-19, India failed to name the required minimum of 13 players for the Group A match against Chinese Taipei. In accordance with Article 4.1 of the Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic (Special Rules), India was therefore unable to participate in the match and the full provisions of Article 4.1 will apply," the AFC said in a statement.
As per Rule 4.1: “If a Participating Team/Participating Club has less than thirteen (13) Participating Players (including one  goalkeeper) available for a Match for any reason (whether or not relating to COVID-19), the relevant Participating Team / Participating Club shall not be able to participate in the Match. Such Participating Team / Participating Club shall be held responsible for the Match not taking place and shall be considered to have withdrawn from the relevant Competition.”
It is heartbreak for the women's team which had undergone extensive preparations and were targeting to reach the knockout stages. The competition was expected to provide a major shot in the arm for women's football as India was participating in the competition after a long gap of 19 years.
Prior to the host's first match against Iran, two positive cases were reported in the camp but that didn't raise any alarms and the match went on as India played out a goalless draw. Interestingly, there was no intimation that there was an outbreak within the camp until hours before the kick-off against Chinese Taipei. On Saturday, head coach Thomas Dennerby had even spoken about how the team was ready for the game with no indication of more covid cases.
On Sunday, the Chinese Taipei team had even warmed up at the venue with officials also present but the Indian contingent was nowhere in sight. Patel did react to the situation and suggested that it was not the time to play the blame game.
"Unfortunately, this happened to us despite the best measures put in place, and it is sheer bad luck that it happened to us. Let there be no fingers pointed at any. We need to understand this is a pandemic situation, and no bubble is foolproof around the world," said Patel in an AIFF statement.
The question, though, is on how all this unfolded at the eleventh hour with the opposition team turning up for the match alongside the officials. While it is a massive setback for India, the competition is expected to continue as confirmed by the AFC.
"The AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022™ will continue to be played as scheduled with the Group winners, runners-up and the two best third-placed teams qualifying to the Quarter-finals."
The challenge now for AIFF is to try and conduct the competition successfully without further complications.