Don’t Let Rankings Fool You, Indian Football Still Needs Fixing
The eternal dilemma of players of Indian origin being able to play for the country or not needs a solution.
When the latest FIFA ranking was announced on 6 July 2017, India were 96th – the country’s second highest ranking ever. In 2014, India were ranked 174, and a year later, it was 166. But in the last two years, India’s ranking has improved drastically and that’s because of a shrewd tactic used by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Back in July 2016, the General Secretary of AIFF, Kushal Das told Goal.com:
For the Asian Cup qualification which is in January, we as of today, could be placed in pot 3. So if we play a team ranked less than 130 and possibly beat them, we could make it into pot 2.
A higher pot helps in getting a favourable draw for the qualifiers. For this, India needed to improve their ranking and they did just that by arranging a friendly against Puerto Rico, who were then ranked 38 places above India.
The Puerto Rico team were missing a few key players and arrived in India an hour before the game. The visitors were put to the sword as India won 4-1 despite going down first.
India did not play another game in 2016 as the win against Puerto Rico helped increase the average points per match in the last 12 months. which is one of the major factors in FIFA rankings. AIFF’s calculated gamble paid off as India were placed in Pot 2 for the draw and were eventually drawn in a group with Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Macau. All three teams are currently ranked below India.
The FIFA ranking doesn’t give you the full picture. It is calculated using a formula and there are ways to navigate around it. Recently, Wales and Romania also used a similar strategy and the latter was ranked as high as 8th back in July 2015.
What happens if India qualifies for Asian Cup 2019?
India currently sit first in their qualification group with two wins in as many matches. Finishing in the Top 2 will ensure qualification and the favourable draw should help India’s cause.
The ranking can only help India qualify but after that, they will have to play the likes of Japan, Australia, South Korea or Saudi Arabia.
There has been marked improvement in India’s overall performance over the last year but there is always room for more. There are numerous Players of Indian Origin (PIO) who ply their trade in Europe and many of these players can help improve the current Indian team.
FIFA’s Rule on Eligibility
According to FIFA’s Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes, Article 16, a player is eligible to represent an Association if he fulfils at least one of the following criteria:
- He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
- His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
- His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
- He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years.
Criteria B and C are what make PIOs eligible to represent India.
What’s the stumbling block?
On 26 December 2008, the Ministry of Sports issued a notification which made non-citizens ineligible to represent India.
As India doesn’t allow dual citizenship, this ruling meant that any POI who wants to represent India has to first be a resident of the country for a period of 12 months before applying for the Indian passport. In addition, they also have to give up their foreign passport.
On 18 May 2017, Danny Batth, captain of former Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers, announced that he wants to represent India. Vijay Goel, the Minister of Sports addressed this matter on Twitter.
However, on 7 July 2017, Danny Batth told Sky Sports:
I think it’s the only country in the world [India] where they don’t like players from different countries coming back to play and represent them.
Batth is not the first player to be left disappointed by the lack of support. Previously, Arata Izumi and Michael Chopra also went through the same ordeal.
Making the Case for Players of Indian Origin
It goes without saying what the advantages of bringing in players of Indian origin are. Several countries and players have done this.
When India lost to Guam in June 2015, the victors’ line-up had nine players who were Americans by birth and the island territory was once ranked 33 places below India.
Famous footballers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ivan Rakitic have also represented their country of origin instead of their country of birth. Aubameyang was born in France but plays for Gabon and Rakitic was born in Switzerland but plays for Croatia.
Many players of Indian origin like Neil Taylor of Aston Villa or Luciano Narsingh of Swansea City are no longer eligible to play for India as they have already represented other countries. However, there are several other promising youngsters who are still eligible, like Liverpool’s teenage prodigy Yan Dhanda.
Dhanda, a player of Indian origin, is so highly rated that he was one of the two uncapped players Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp invited for the club’s mid-season break in February 2017.
Imagine how great it would be if he played for India? For the sake of Indian football, let’s hope that the existing eligibility rules are reformed.
(Naveen Joseph graduated with a Bachelor's and Master's degree from IIT Kharagpur before opting to follow his heart and turn to sports journalism)
(This admission season, The Quint got experts from CollegeDekho.com on board to answer all your college-related queries. Send us your questions at email@example.com)
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