The last few days have been bitter ones for Indian football. Many of the country’s premier clubs were reluctant to release players for the Asian Games, and the national coach, Igor Stimac, could not even have a single training session before playing in Hangzhou.
There was a lot of emotional noise all around, certainly not the right send-off for the team. But Datuk Seri Windsor John pointed out that the problem was only likely to get bigger everywhere in the next few months.
“This not only an Asian Games problem but also an Olympics problem. Because these matches are played on a non-FIFA window. So, the clubs are not obliged by the rules to release their players,” said John, the general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation, in a chat with The Hindu.
-’Players belong to clubs’-
“Don’t forget, the players belong to the clubs. They are the ones taking care, so it’s always a good understanding between the clubs and the association that can solve the problem. You cannot throw the rule book at both sides—the federation or the club; it does not help anyone. It becomes very emotional if there is no proper discussion.
“For the Olympics, even the FIFA (world body) cannot force clubs to release players.”
A few decades ago the world’s best, irrespective of age, played at the Olympics but from 1992 after negotiations between FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, football at the Olympics became an under-23 event and from 1996, three players over 23 were also allowed in.
“They realised that many players were not coming for these Games, so they brought it down to under-23 and later allowed three over-23 players (the Olympic Council of Asia decided to follow the same rule for the Asiad from 2002).
One of the reasons FIFA was keen on making the Olympics an Under-23 event was because it wanted its World Cup to be football’s premier event. But now there’s a new dilemma.
“The thinking at that time was that under-23 players would not be the first choice, they would not be in the first 11, but now we realise there are many young talented players in the first team. We realise that players who are 20 and 21 are all playing for some of the world’s top clubs. So now, we are stuck,” said John.
“We cannot bring anything lower because it devalues the event. Olympic and Asian Games organisers would be upset if we decide to send under-18 teams. So, that dilemma is there.”
Some top players, who were keen to play the Olympics, have found a way.
“They have it in their contract that they will or will not play. Messi played in the Olympics because he told whichever club he was playing that he would. So, it is up to the club and the national team to accept it. So it’s a negotiation and an understanding that could solve the issue,” said the Malaysian.
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