Mumbai, Jan 26
Thomas Dennerby, the head coach of India's women's football team, on Wednesday blamed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) of laxity in conducting COVID-19 tests on the staff of the hotel which resulted in 19 of his 23 players testing positive and the team was forced to withdraw from the Women's Asian Cup India 2022.
In a virtual interaction with the media, Dennerby gave a timeline of the crisis since his team landed in Mumbai on January 11 to January 23 when it was forced to withdraw from the tournament.
The 62-year-old from Sweden claimed that the team got the infection from the staff of the hotel, which was chosen by AFC and said there was laxity in testing the hotel staff, who he said were tested on January 11 and then only on January 17. He claimed that AFC got the test results but sat on it for nearly 48 hours before delivering it on January 19.
He claimed that seven staff members including cooks and serving staff, who were in a bio-bubble inside the hotel, tested positive.
"Why did AFC delay sending the report to the hotel about the positive tests," he questioned. The India coach said they were directed by AFC to that hotel and that it was the Continental body that handled all operations.
He said as per the protocols, the staff should have been tested more regularly.
Dennerby also accused AFC of being "unprofessional" in dealing with a heartbroken team, having no regard for the feelings of the players and not allowing the team and federation to bring in players from the U-17 squad to put up a team for the Chinese Taipei match.
India is organising the top AFC event for women for the second time and hoping to qualify for the quarterfinals and fight for a place in next year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
But the campaign ended in heartbreak as India could not put up the required 13 players for their second match against Chinese Taipei.
Dennerby gave the timeline of how the infection spread in the Indian squad and the support staff which eventually resulted in 19 of the 23 players and six support staff testing positive for COVID-19.
He said the team was in a bio-bubble since August 2021, having travelled abroad for matches and reached Mumbai on January 11. "Till then there were no positive cases. After reaching, followed all AFC protocols for quarantine, the players stayed in their rooms, had meals in their rooms for the first few days, and everyone tested negative in tests conducted after we reached Navi Mumbai." the coach claimed.
On January 19, the Indian team reported that two players had tested positive for COVID-19 and played the match against Iran on January 20, which ended in a goalless draw.
The India head coach said that two players suffered injuries during the match -- one a hand fracture and the other a leg injury.
"But we were anxious after that match because some of the players were not feeling well and showing symptoms. I had said during my post-match interaction with the media that I am very anxious about the next round of PCR tests," said Dennerby on Wednesday.
His worst fears came true on January 22 as seven India players, the physio and the strength and conditioning expert tested positive.
"We had only 11 players that had tested negative and two with plasters. We asked AFC for clarity and, like every time, they just asked us to read Article 4.1 of special rules for COVID-19.
"Later in the evening we got a communication from the tournament director that we can get the two players in plasters to the stadium to complete the requirement of 13 players," he claimed.
But that did not happen as on the day of the match, two more players tested positive thus leaving Dennerby with only nine players fit to play the match. The team had to withdraw from the match and the AFC Asian Cup as per Article 4.1 of the special rules for conducting tournaments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dennerby said people were unfairly blaming the All-India Football Federation and the players for this crisis.
He claimed that AFC was not at all interested in finding a humane solution to the crisis. He claimed that the federation had approached the AFC seeking permission for involving players from the Under-17 side, who were in a bio-bubble, but the request was rejected.
"This is the worst behaviour from an organisation that I have seen and that too in my eighth championship. Why do (they) have to do this in this painful way, just hours before the state of the match," he said, adding that telling the players that they can't take further part in the tournament was the most painful thing for him.
Dennerby said he was ready for the consequences and was making this statement for the sake of the AIFF, which was being blamed unfairly, and players who have suffered so much as their efforts and hard work of more than six months had gone waste.