India Withdraws AFC Bid
“No discussion with the Saudis,” says AIFF. Hosting major events doesn't fit in with the roadmap for the sport in the country. | Image Courtesy: @kalyanchaubey)
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has withdrawn its bid to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup men’s championships. In a forward-looking and progressive-seeming move the federation, under the leadership of Kalyan Chaubey, said it was withdrawing a bid to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup–the top competition for men on the continent. The withdrawal means Saudi Arabia is the only contender for the event, which might work as a staging ground for their joint bid with Egypt and Greece to host the 2023 World Cup.
The withdrawal is a welcome change in the approach of India’s football leadership. Under the Praful Patel regime which lasted much longer than it should have till earlier this year–India spent time and resources hosting major events rather than concentrating on building the game from the ground up. Shaji Prabhakaran, general secretary of the AIFF, spoke to NewsClick in detail about the decision and the thinking behind it.
“Based on where we are we analysed the situation,” he said. “It took us 75 days to come to a decision. We have to have the maximum impact if we are to host a tournament of this level and we are currently looking at a long-term orientation. We are focussed on technical and player development at all levels. They are the value creators in the game and hosting a major event at this point doesn’t fit in with our strategy for the next three years.”
Why a new thought process?
Saudi Arabia is sponsoring elements of the Santosh Trophy, India’s senior national football championship, from next year. When asked whether this, along with the support of the Saudi bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup, played a part in the decision Prabhakaran said, “We have had no discussion with the Saudis on this aspect. The decision is based on what is best for Indian football.”
Prabhakaran went on to tell NewsClick that with the limited resources of the federation it was impossible to concentrate on hosting big-ticket events while trying to build a basic structure for the sport at the same time. “Can we compete at that level,” he asked rhetorically. “We don't have the resources or the capacity to organise ten different tournaments. There are very different expectations when it comes to hosting (and participating in) senior and junior tournaments. While on the one hand, we can say it is good for young players to get exposure, for the senior team it is very different. We do not want to invite negativity.”
The performance of Asian teams at the world level, no doubt, factored into India’s very pragmatic decision. Saudi Arabia beat Lionel Messi and Argentina in their opening game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and Japan had a great run in the tournament. The Samurai Blue registered back-to-back wins over former world champs Germany and
Spain before going down, on penalties, to 2018 world cup finalists Croatia. The AIFF accepts the need to build a basic structure for the sport before embarking on ambitious projects such as the world cup. “We have to ask whether we can compete at that level,” Prabhakaran told NewsClick. “There is a globally established structure and we don’t need to reestablish anything. Asian teams have grown over the years and we have huge gaps to fill. That is the priority.”
Dissent in the ranks?
Chaubey, former player and member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, stood unsuccessfully for the legislative assembly election in West Bengal. He has found new political relevance (after successive electoral losses) through his role as Indian football’s planner-in-chief. So how does this decision fit in with the pro-sport
(and pro-event) narrative of the BJP? Prabhakaran denied any dissent in the ranks, even though the party’s manifesto in the Gujarat assembly election went as far as to say hosting the 2036 Summer Olympic Games was a key point. “We will discuss synergies with all stakeholders,” he said. “We need government collaboration and they are
a key partner in developing football in the country. Will meet the minister as well as the Sports Authority of India and build consensus. In four years if we have the resources and capacity, we will see.” he
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