The Ineffectiveness of Rigid Rules

Datuk Seri Windsor John: The Dilemma of Releasing Players for International Competitions

The past few days have been tumultuous for Indian football. Premier clubs in the country were hesitant to release their players for the Asian Games, and the national coach, Igor Stimac, had no opportunity to conduct a single training session before the competition in Hangzhou. It was a less-than-ideal start for the team. However, according to Datuk Seri Windsor John, the general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation, this issue is only expected to worsen in the coming months.

Non-FIFA Window Matches: A Growing Problem

John pointed out that the problem at hand is not limited to the Asian Games but extends to the Olympics as well. These matches are scheduled outside the FIFA window, allowing clubs to withhold their players without any obligation. “Don’t forget, the players belong to the clubs. They are the ones taking care, so it’s always a good understanding between the clubs and the association that can solve the problem. You cannot throw the rule book at both sides — the federation or the club — it does not help anyone. It becomes very emotional if there is no proper discussion,” shared John during a conversation with The Hindu.

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The Evolution of Olympic Football

In the past, irrespective of age, the world’s best players participated in the Olympics. However, negotiations between FIFA and the International Olympic Committee in 1992 transformed football at the Olympics into an under-23 event, with the allowance of three players over the age of 23 since 1996. The Olympic Council of Asia also adopted this rule for the Asian Games from 2002.

New Dilemma: Young Talents in First Teams

While striving to prioritize the World Cup as football’s premier event, FIFA faced a new dilemma. “The thinking at that time was that under-23 players would not be the first choice, they would not be in the first 11, but now we realize there are many young talented players in the first team. We realize that players who are 20 and 21 are all playing for some of the world’s top clubs. So now, we are stuck,” explained John.

The challenge lies in finding the right balance. Reducing the age limit further would devalue the event, drawing criticism from Olympic and Asian Games organizers. Sending under-18 teams is not a feasible option. Therefore, exploring negotiations and understanding between clubs and national teams becomes crucial to resolving this issue.

Player Contracts and Negotiations

Some top players have found a way to play in the Olympics by including specific clauses in their contracts. For example, Lionel Messi competed in the Olympics because he informed his club of his intention to participate. Ultimately, it is up to the club and the national team to reach an agreement.

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By fostering open communication and negotiations, the football community can work towards finding solutions to the challenges that arise when releasing players for international competitions.

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