Indian women’s football team head coach Thomas Dennerby said the players, staff and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) were not at fault for the debacle that was the hosts’ exit from the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 due to Covid-19 outbreak. Dennerby said there was nothing more that the players or the federation could have done to stay safe and careful and detailed the chain of events that led to the incident that rocked Indian football.
Dennerby said throughout the six months of staying together and training, there was never a hint of positive case in the team.
After training in Kochi, they arrived in Mumbai on 13th and went to their respective rooms after giving their first tests. He said all of them tested negative when the tests arrived the next day.
The first case of positive case, however, came in the team following their first training session right after they had stepped out of the quarantine. “That’s strange, how is that even possible, we thought. The first feeling was it is someone within the bubble,” Dennerby said.
The physio, the strength and conditioning (who were both close to the hotel staff for setting up the gym) and a player tested positive in the first cases within the team.
Dennerby revealed that the hotel staff was tested on January 17 and in their results, which came back on January 18, seven staff members tested positive. He, however, said that AFC did not share the report till January 19, leaving the team possible to infection.
“Did they understand this was not good? Probably, but not action at this time. AFC should have called the hotel directly, and asked the (positive cases) to immediately leave the hotel and have no contact with the players whatsoever. But they did not. This was a big mistake.
“Why were they not tested every third day as a team? No test for the hotel staff done between the 11th and 17th, what we know anyway. I think that was an unprofessional way to handle it in an AFC bubble, a championship, a WC qualification,” he said.
Following more tests, India had only 11 players available on the morning of the match. 10 had tested positive and two had fractures and were in a cast.
Dennerby further said that seven and a half hours before the start of the match, the AFC Tournament Director said that it was the team’s decision whether they want to field the available 11 plus two injured players to go ahead with the match.
“We couldn’t have disrespected the injured players by bringing them to the stadium in a wheelchair. Is that showing the team respect?” Dennerby asked.
By 5.30pm, two more players had tested positive and India had only nine players available.
“Why wasn’t the match against Chinese Taipei cancelled earlier? What was AFC waiting for? AFC knew the match couldn’t go ahead then why make it so painful for us? No respect, no compassion, no empathy,” he said.
He said he was hurt by AFC’s lack of intent to finding solutions. “Telling them the news was the most painful part. You want it to be decided on the pitch. We didn’t even get a chance, it was not even a discussion. Could we bring some players in, U-17 were in another bubble? The federation tried everything,” he said.
“We just wanted to put an end to all the rumours and for you all to know the full story and how AFC handled it,” he added.
“Honestly, we are not happy with the AFC tournament organsiation or the lack of solutions or active dialogue. We think that in one way destroyed our dreams. But we are not blaming the whole AFC organisation.
“From my side, the biggest problem is that the AFC were not at all interested in having a discussion, how to handle this embarrassing situation. No emotion for the players, no understanding about human beings.”
Dennerby said as of now, 19 players and 6 staff members are infected with Covid-19 and are in quarantine.