All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel on Monday said that matches of the women's AFC Asian Cup, beginning here on Thursday, will not be cancelled due to positive COVID-19 cases if 13 players are available in each of the two competing teams. Patel, also the chairman of the Local Organising Committee, said in a virtual press conference that contingency plans have been put in place to deal with any situation in case participating team members are infected by the virus.
"I hope not (of players testing positive of COVID-19), but in case such a situation arises, we have contingency plans, AFC has contingency plans," he said.
"The affected player or players will be isolated but the teams will be fielded as long as 13 players [in each team] are available," said Patel in the presence of Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray.
All the 12 participating teams have named 23-member squads for the tournament.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, strict health and safety protocols have been put in place for the women's continental showpiece.
All the 12 participating teams will be staying inside a strict bio-bubble and everyone involved in the tournament, including all players and officials will undergo regular COVID-19 tests.
All the staff working in the team hotels will also be in the bio-bubble and will not physically interact with anyone outside the bubble. Same goes for the bus drivers, who will ferry the teams for training and matches. They have also been provided accommodation inside the bubble.
"AFC and FIFA want strict implementation of COVID-19 protocols and FIFA officials are also visiting here," Patel, also a member of the FIFA Council, said.
"We want a smooth, safe and successful tournament. Anything negative in this tournament should not have any impact in the FIFA Women's Under-17 World Cup we are hosting in October this year. We don't want any postponement of that tournament." He also ruled out any possibility of allowing spectators in the three venues in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune even if the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra improves in the coming days.
"AFC has made it clear that the tournament will be held in the bio-bubble and the stadiums will not be opened for spectators irrespective of whether the COVID-19 situation gets better or not." As per the current protocol, upon landing in India all the teams will immediately proceed to their respective hotels which is a bio-secure bubble. All the members of the squads will be confined to their rooms till their test result on arrival comes.
The tournament kicks off with a Group A match between China and Chinese Taipei at Mumbai Football Arena on Thursday. Host India takes on Iran later on the same day at DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Five teams from the tournament will directly qualify for the 2023 women's FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand while another two will make it to the Intercontinental Play-offs. Australia, which finished runner-up in the last edition of the AFC Asian Cup, has already qualified for the 2023 FIFA World Cup as co-hosts. Patel also said that India is a strong contender to host the 2027 Men's AFC Asian Cup. The country has already bid for the tournament.
"We're a serious contender for 2027 AFC Asian Cup, no question of not trying our best. It is tough competition with the likes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia but we are hopeful.
"Hosting these major tournaments changed the landscape of Indian football and prestige in the world. These things were not there in the past 10 years, that is the difference," he said.
"We will bid for major tournaments of AFC and FIFA in future also. All these will nurture a footballing culture."
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