Last week FIFA updated its rankings chart for the national teams for the final time this calendar year. The Indian men’s team is languishing in 104th position in the list while the women’s side -- which has not played in over a year -- is 55th. Regardless of the quality of the national side, or generally of football played in the domestic leagues, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) keeps reiterating that the country is the fastest growing market for the game.
The latest occasion this line was thrown about was on December 16, Wednesday, during the official launch of India’s bid to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. In a function attended by Union sports minister Kiran Rijiju and AIFF president Praful Patel, The AIFF unveiled its vision for hosting the continental championship, summed up in a bid slogan -- ‘Brighter Future Together’.
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If India wins the rights to host the event it would be the country’s fourth major tournament in a decade after the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the now postponed FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. That’s quite an achievement for a country ranked outside the top 100 -- a footballing backwater. But a big market for the game as well. India is a land of glorious ironies for sure!
Of course, Patel feels proud about hosting big tournaments. The press release for the event quotes him as saying how the tournaments showcased India’s capability. Well, at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the hosts never won a match and could only manage to score once in three outings. Hardly a showcase of footballing capability one would say. Then again, Patel was not talking about football, was he? He was talking about event management capabilities of the Indian football fraternity and other stakeholders, including the government.
"It has taken a lot of hard work to reach the level we are at today, where we can think of hosting international events year on year,” said Patel. “The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India left an indelible mark on our country and we're now working towards ensuring FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and the AFC Women’s Asian Cup go down as two of the most successful women's international football tournaments. We're continuously working on infrastructure upgradation and football development, and India would be honoured to be selected as the host for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
“It is an unparalleled opportunity to take Asian football to new heights and create a Brighter Future Together, for India, for the AFC and for our whole continent," he added.
Couple of things in Patel’s words do not make sense though. One is the sweeping statement about football development. A subjective matter perhaps and certainly the national team’s fortunes has nothing to do with football growth. At least not by Indian yardsticks. At least not in the AIFF’s books. The second is how hosting of a tournament by India, one of the minnows in the continent, would help Asian football attain greater heights. We will have to wait till 2027 to understand that,
In the meantime, the Indian Super League (ISL) is on, while within the AIFF, a game of dilly dallying is in full swing regarding the election of its executive committee. An election in which Patel is not eligible to contest if the process is staged adhering to the National Sports Code. Football’s “fastest growing” market is not just thriving, but quite dynamic as well.
Basque Federation Seeks Recognition
The Basque Football Federation has applied to FIFA and UEFA for membership and enable teams from the region to take part in international competition.
Delegates from the federation and regional government travelled to FIFA’s and UEFA’s headquarters in Zurich and Nyon to submit the application for full membership.
A statement on the Basque federation website said the application was made since the members voted in favour of it during the 2018 general assembly. It is “the majority desire of Basque society”.
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Of course it is not as simple. When teams compete in FIFA or UEFA tournaments such as the World Cup or Euros, the nationalistic symbolism is immense. In fact, football is one sport which acts as an engine to push a country, or a region, into the global conscience. So, understandably, there would be politics involved in the granting of membership. In the case of Basque, Spain may not be very keen on one of its provinces fielding a ‘national” side. Imagine a match between Basque (the team is known as Euskadi) and Spain.
Basque national Federation lawyer David Salinas-Armendariz said joining UEFA and FIFA was “a legitimate and absolutely viable objective from a legal point of view”. adding that European territories that were not independent states had been recognised by the two organisations before.
Gibraltar, for instance, is one. A British overseas territory, it was accepted by UEFA in 2013 and by FIFA in 2016. However, they had to go via the legal route to achieve that. A long drawn legal battle that too which lasted a decade.
Lawyer Salinas-Armendariz also said that the Basque federation was ready to negotiate with the Spanish federation on the issue and had informed the national governing body of the request. But, the Spanish federation agreeing to the request is only a quarter of the battle done. Getting FIFA to recognise you takes much more, and it is made all the more complicated since there seems to be no set code or criteria. Some say that UN membership is a key parameter FIFA looks into. Then again, membership has been given to non UN members by FIFA. On the contrary, FIFA has denied UN member nations membership.
The Basque country is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. It enjoys, among many other privileges, fiscal autonomy. Euskadi was founded in 1915 and plays friendly matches but has never played in an official championship.
Bilic First Managerial Casualty of Season
When it comes to relegation battles in the Premier League, the slogan Uncle Sam needs you doesn’t quite fit right. What you need is in fact Uncle Sam. Or so most think.
Sam Allardyce, 66, has managed Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Everton in the top flight, earning a reputation for helping struggling teams to avoid relegation. He was also in charge of the England national team for an ill fated 67 days. He was sacked when he was filmed allegedly offering advice on how to circumvent FA transfer rules in a newspaper sting.
And now West Brom have given him their top job and a return back to top flight football. Their sacking of Slaven Bilic means not only has the Croatian become the first casualty of the season but he has also seen the tables turn on him perfectly five years on. Bilic replaced Allardyce as West Ham manager before the 2015-16 season when the London side did not renew the Englishman’s contract.
Bilic took charge at West Brom in 2019 and was tasked with gaining promotion from the Championship to the top flight. Since their promotion they have won just one game (against fellow strugglers Sheffield United) drawn four and lost eight. They sit at the second from bottom of the table.
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