The centralized initiative of the Indian Football Association (AIFF) to provide medical support policy and grants to its players, technical staff and referees in the wake of the raging COVID-19 pandemic has been greeted with appreciation, because the country’s central football organization has declared that it wanted to “formalize” the process of helping its heroes of yesterday and today, who have made the country proud by their contributions.
The road to recovery is long, but the healing has begun. As football picks up in the country, AIFF Secretary General Kushal Das addresses Sports star on the national team roadmap, officiating in Indian football, mental health and on why 2022 will be a big year for women’s football.
Has COVID-19 been a catalyst for AIFF to introduce this policy of medical support and subsidies for its players and staff? At a time when we saw international clubs with large financial means engaging in salary cuts, from players to technical staff, what was the thinking behind this initiative given the difficult circumstances?
The AIFF appreciates the immense contribution of the players who have brought laurels to the country. While the AIFF has helped players and staff financially even in the past on a case-by-case basis, we have now tried to formalize the process. We have now established a procedure in which we are ready to help for the good of all of our heroes and their families.
We also donated Rs. 25 lakhs to the PM Cares Fund in 2021 following the pandemic – our small effort to repay our country and stand together in times of crisis to move it forward together.
Not to mention that we have also developed a COVID-19 relief grant to support active Category 1 and 2 referees and assistant referees who have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This grant is a one-time financial assistance for match officials who are managed by the AIFF through their participation as officials in AIFF competitions.
We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the world hard, especially the sports industry, and essential COVID safety protocols have resulted in a lack of sports activities with the exception of a few major business events.
Over the past season, officiating has not been at a standard and consistent level in the domestic leagues over the years. Is the AIFF considering ways to improve the level of refereeing in national football? What do you think of the implementation of Video Analysis Referee (VAR) in Indian football? When can we expect it?
In every development process there are short, long and immediate achievable goals. With guidance and expertise from the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), there are also online / offline courses that include hands-on sessions, assessment, scoring and even one-on-one coaching sessions.
In addition, AIFF, in collaboration with FIFA, organizes FIFA Proficiency Courses for Referees, Assistant Referees and Referee Evaluators across India. Usually these classes are physically held every year, but due to the pandemic situation we are practically doing them late.
The courses help supervisors keep abreast of the latest developments while improving their techniques on the thinking process. The lack of local matches has been a bit of a nuisance as a referee’s practical capacity increases with refereeing in an increased number of matches. Starting next season, ISL will have a minimum of 27 games for each club as well as more Hero I-League games once the two-way format resumes.
VAR would be the future of refereeing and football. However, this is a costly affair and requires FIFA approval. In a huge country like India, we have to take it step by step.
The Indian Women’s League has not started since February 2020. What can we expect for the National Women’s Team and the National League (IWL) in the current AIFF calendar year and beyond?
As you know, the senior women’s national team have already met in Jamshedpur since mid-August, where they trained under Thomas Dennerby for the upcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup. It may be the only ongoing training camp in India in all team sports [currently].
The AIFF expects covid restrictions and quarantine rules to become flexible in different countries soon, and with the required clearances from the governments of the respective countries, the women’s team will travel abroad for friendlies. international.
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In fact, the team will soon travel to UAE for 2 internationals with UAE and Tunisia followed by a trip to Bahrain and Sweden. There are also plans and discussions for games in November.
In addition, subject to the improvement of the pandemic situation in India and with the consent of the Indian government, there are plans to organize an international tournament for the women’s team in India in the near future.
At the national level, the senior national championships are expected to take place in November; while a likely window for the IWL is March / April 2022 in Bhubaneswar. The head coach was very clear that it would not be safe to allow national team players to participate in the IWL before the Asian Cup in 2022, and therefore it will be held after the Asian Cup.
AIFF Secretary General Kushal Das with the Indian Men’s National Team. Photo: AIFF MEDIA
Indian goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan had previously spoken of greater representation of the ISL and the I-League in the IWL. Do you think a marketed structure like ISL is feasible for women’s football right now? Apart from academies and grassroots development, what is the AIFF doing for women’s football to increase its visibility and market value?
2022 will be a huge year for women’s football in India with the AFC Women’s Asian Cup as well as the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled from October 2022. The legacy of both tournaments goes surely galvanize the Indian sociological context and develop a huge interest. in girls, allowing them to play more.
The Indian Women’s League has provided a platform for aspiring girls to regularly show off their talent. There will be a substantial increase in the number of matches and teams in IWL but we need more. But we need the involvement of all stakeholders in women’s football – it has to be a joint effort. I urge all state clubs and associations to get involved and take an interest in women’s football.
The ISL and I-League in 2020-21 ended in secure bio-bubbles, but players noted the grueling nature of the competitions being contested in a busy four-month window. Given the circumstances, can you enlighten us on the important role of mental health in sport and when can we expect mental health awareness camps organized by AIFF in the near future and in a permanent sports psychologist in the national team?
The AIFF had a sports psychologist on board for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, and there were also sessions for other youth teams. Sports psychology is an integral part of modern coaching in which the head coach is equipped and deals with all mental aspects. We deal with it on a case-by-case basis and depending on the needs and requests of technical staff, it will be handled together.
The Indian Super League will undergo major changes next season. The number of Indian players on the field has increased from six to seven with places for foreigners reduced to four. Do you think that the teams, which have a solid base of national players, will gain the upper hand when it comes to the results? What is your general vision of the movement?
If you watch domestic league football over the years, there is a general tendency to believe that foreign rookies make all the difference.
You have to review the champion teams and the teams that made an impact and you will find that they have always had a good pool of quality Indian players. This is not a new trend, but it has been prevalent since the 1980s when foreign recruits began to be drafted into Indian clubs.
An increased number of Indian players on the field opens up a position up for grabs. All of this will benefit Indian football when it takes part in the competitions of the AFC club, and surely the Blue Tigers.
AIFF Secretary General Kushal Das. Photo: AIFF MEDIA
Qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup is the most pressing concern right now, but the team have recorded just one victory in the qualifying campaign. Where do you think our team is currently missing and what do you think about the team’s overall performance?
Indian football is going through a transition in which we have had a mixed bag of results. While we have had one of our best results lately – the away draw against invincible Asian champions Qatar, we have not been able to maintain the same momentum and achieve regularity.
At the moment, the focus is on qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup China. We finished the World Cup qualifiers in third place and there has been a marked improvement in the way. to play, the passes, the tackles, the chances created, the goals conceded. compared to before.
But we understand that we have to improve every day and head coach Igor Stimac has led us. To be fair the pandemic didn’t help Stimac prepare the team and we need to give him more time as was unanimously accepted by the technical committee.
What was the collective thinking behind the extension of Igor Stimac’s contract until September 2022?
Stimac has been able to bring about a change in our playing philosophy and the current squad has a number of young players with a proven track record who are all set to gain a foothold in international football.
The AIFF spares no effort to provide exposure for the team – so much so that even during the pandemic we managed to play against Oman and the United Arab Emirates in Dubai in March. The trend will continue and we expect Stimac to instill consistency in the team which will lead us to better results.