Covid knocks India out of AFC Women’s Asian Cup
“We’re more like thinking about the next test, which is tomorrow,” India head coach Thomas Dennerby told reporters, his expressions hidden under the mask, adding, “so that we don’t have any more cases.”
This was Thursday night, moments after hosts India played their first game against Iran at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and one day after the Indian camp had reported two Covid positive cases, one of them a player.
The situation escalated rather quickly, and heartbreakingly, for the Indian team. On Sunday, India were unable to field the minimum required 13 players for their second Group A match against Chinese Taipei at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai after a dozen players returned positive tests from the 23-member squad in the bio-bubble.
The team, therefore, had to withdraw from the match, and, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rulebook, from the entire tournament that every member of the team and coaching staff had put their mind, body and soul into being prepared for over the last several months.
“Following several positive cases of COVID-19, India failed to name the required minimum of 13 players for the Group A match against Chinese Taipei,” the AFC said in a statement released a couple of minutes after 7.30pm, the scheduled kick-off time.
It pointed to Article 4.1 of the "Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic", which states that any team that has less than 13 players for a match would not be able to participate. "Such participating team/participating club shall be held responsible for the match not taking place and shall be considered to have withdrawn from the relevant competition.”
The statement added that the situation triggered Article 6 of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 regulations, which outlines that any team which does not report for a match "shall be considered to have withdrawn from the competition” besides some other repercussions that includes fines, etc.
India were scheduled to play their final group match against China on Wednesday. Having played out a goalless draw with Iran in their first outing, the game against Chinese Taipei was crucial for India’s prospects of advancing to the quarter-finals. That would have also opened up a possibility of a spot at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
This is the second big football tournament in the country to have been impacted by Covid. After the 2020 Women's U-17 World Cup in India was postponed to 2022 owing to the pandemic, the focus in the Indian women’s football ecosystem shifted to this event. Dennerby, who was roped in for the U-17 World Cup side, was handed charge of the senior team. The squad—comprising 16 players aged 24 or below—went on exposure tours and played friendlies throughout last year gearing up for the biggest tournament in each player’s career thus far.
Instead, the players will now be isolated in the team hotel in Navi Mumbai, their hopes of making a mark in the marquee continental event at home having vanished after a solitary game. “Absolutely devastated,” goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan tweeted. An All India Football Federation (AIFF) official said Dennerby is likely to continue as head coach of the team.
As per testing protocols for the event, players were tested every three days and the hotel staff every five days. Things began to unravel a day after the Iran game that saw Sweety Devi’s name missing from the Indian team list. Friday’s test results presented the worst fears in the Indian camp. “Not only were only 11 players available, some others also showed symptoms,” said the AIFF official requesting anonymity.
On Sunday evening, even as the Chinese Taipei squad arrived at the ground and went about their pre-match warm-up sessions, there was no sign of the Indian team. The official team sheets of both sides had also not been released. The AFC then put out the official statement and cancelled the post-match press conference of the teams.
Praful Patel, AIFF president and chairman of the Local Organising Committee who had a few days earlier sounded confident about the safety protocols and hoped matches would remain unaffected, said in a statement on Sunday that "no bubble is foolproof around the world". “The team is heartbroken,” he added.This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.