India scapegoats or at fault?

AFC stick by books, but for the hosts what went wrong

India scapegoats or at fault?

PUNE: So, all voiced their point vehemently. And it sure was to happen owing to the turn of events that left host’s India shaken with disbelief regarding further continuing in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022.

India’s coach Thomas Dennerby was direct and open, the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) sympathized with the turn of events and who wouldn’t, while the Asian Football Confederation stuck to the book that they opened and elucidated all.

The Indian eves, devastated overall, were left resigned to fate that had been so cruel. Adding up was the harsh reality of Covid playing havoc amongst them all.

To India, as it stands, it’s not just curtains after being forced to withdraw, but with their results (0-0 v Iran) nullified, their existence was reduced to being ‘just’ host’s!

Yes, “the heart goes out to the team,” and certainly for the magnanimous effort put together on and off the field, but somewhere down the line, a little foresight to have a double-check with one's own mechanism in place could have helped.

After all, what transpired, post the disappointment, has been doubting Thomases. A lot of ‘why’s,’ meant an endgame to trust leading to a chronology and finally blame being the order of the day.

So, was India made a scapegoat? No reason, one could think of and why. Circumstance? Yes.

But probably, one statement by a former India international turned administrator, pointed out was “maintaining self-discipline. That’s the basics irrespective of being in a bio bubble.”

In fact, AIFF President, Praful Patel, himself mentioned “no bio bubble is foolproof around the world.” Patel’s statement boldly speaks of awareness, just that what unfolded was casual.

Face it up and straight there are still 11 teams in the fray and their continuity remains commendable. This, to the fact that all still manage 13 players to get started. The question is what is it that these visitors got right, that the hosts got wrong.

The Korean press reported their own team battling Covid to field a team, but eventually, they continued and are in the last-8. There’s more, Vietnam had 11 players and staff infected during their preparatory camp, but they did whatever was necessary to play. Japan and the Philippines also added to the list but blanketed the spread.

It’s strange that everyone was aware of the increase in infections in both Mumbai and Pune and yet it remained that India paid the price.

Coach's Dennerby’s concerns were legitimate as an aggrieved leader with a dream in place, but then what wrong did AFC do. Probably, set Special Rules for a Covid situation, which was all okay until the virus turned villain!

To some extent, there’s been a misplaced understanding of things. Because although the AFC is the ultimate authority when it comes to this tournament, the AIFF as the host association has a lot of responsibilities in organizing the competition.

And perhaps, one of those responsibilities happens to be conducting tests for everyone inside the bio-bubbles for every team

The booklet titled Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions During COVID-19 Pandemic issued by the AFC, Article 5 states,

"5.1. Subject to Article 5.2, the Host Organisation shall be responsible for:

5.1.1. Implementing preventative measures in all Controlled Access Areas in compliance with the medical protocol set by the AFC and the relevant authorities of the host country, at its own cost; and

5.1.2. Organising and covering the cost of the COVID-19 testing process for the AFC Delegation and Participating Teams/Participating Clubs upon their arrival to the host country and (if required) on an ongoing basis, as well as for organising and covering the cost of the COVID-19 testing process for Participating Teams/Participating Clubs already based in the host country. This shall include, without limitation, the purchase of testing kits, the delivery of testing, the analysis of samples and the results management process. The Host Organisation shall ensure that these obligations are discharged using appropriately skilled personnel and in a timely manner, in the utmost confidence. The relevant Stakeholder shall be responsible for any and all costs and/or expenses (unless agreed otherwise with any relevant Individual) incurred by all

5.2. Individuals affiliated to it and/or carrying out duties on its behalf in connection with their involvement in any Match or Competition, including, but not limited to, any insurance coverage, hospitalisation, medical and quarantine costs."

In another booklet called the AFC Match Operations Protocol During COVID-19 Pandemic (Edition 2021), it is further stated,

"Host Organisations shall be responsible to ensure all other Individuals involved in the Match (e.g. drivers, on-pitch medical staff, hotel staff, etc) are tested in accordance with the above requirements, with special focus on those in close contact with the Participating Players, Participating Officials, Match Officials and the AFC Delegation. In principle, only those who have been tested negative shall be allowed to access a Controlled Access Area.

Host Organisations, in consultation with the relevant authorities of the host country, shall establish a comprehensive testing regime for all the Individuals involved in the Match to ensure all Matches are played in a safe environment. They are required to organise tests for Participating Players, Participating Officials, Match Officials and AFC Delegation upon their arrival at the host country. In addition to the test upon arrival, periodic regular tests shall be conducted throughout the duration of the Competition..."

Both of these pre-formulated booklets suggest that the responsibility for creating and managing safe bio-bubbles as well as arranging and conducting COVID-19 tests would be on the host organisation - the All India Football Federation.

AFC’s response to a query was simple and outlined successfully conducting major tournaments across Asia in the face of serious challenges posed by the pandemic. They further added that they also did so by implementing strict medical and health protocols that are in line with the host country’s medical regulations.

Can this be believed? Well, to begin with, no-host nation, since the reboot of football in Asia, has gone through the same situation as host’s India did.

Agreeably yes it was a bad day in office, a big price to pay but the lesson to learn is probably what Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray declared back in 2019 when he launched a state-wide campaign, ‘My Family, My Responsibility’, to tackle coronavirus.