Indian football’s journey in the Asian Games has witnessed a transformation from prominence to relative obscurity. The roots of India’s footballing glory in the tournament can be traced back to its remarkable victory in the inaugural edition held in 1951 in New Delhi.
It was on the Asian Games stage that India showcased its footballing prowess, emulating this feat again in Jakarta in 1962 and securing a bronze medal in Bangkok in 1970. These three medals represented the achievements of three generations of footballers who thrived under the legacy and infrastructure established by the British during their colonial rule.
However, the subsequent 50 years witnessed a steady decline, marked by mismanagement and mediocrity. Despite initial success, India’s administrators failed to sustain the developmental initiatives required to keep pace with the global progress of the sport.
Following the early period of glory, the peak of India’s performance was a sixth-place finish when it hosted the Asian Games again in 1982. In the years that followed, India’s performance graph continued to dip, and when the Asian Games became an event for under-23 national teams, like the Olympics, in 2002, India’s performance deteriorated further.
The nadir came in 2014 when India finished 26th in Incheon, and the nation opted not to participate in the subsequent edition in Jakarta in 2018. The Indian Sports Ministry’s reluctance to send teams without medal prospects led to a concerted effort by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to secure the participation of both the men’s and women’s national teams in Hangzhou.
– Amitabha Das Sharma