Thomas Dennerby blames AFC but rules suggest AIFF was in charge of all Covid protocols

Thomas Dennerby, head coach of India (W) AFC

On Sunday, hours after India were eliminated from the AFC Women's Asian Cup (WAC) after failing to field a side against Chinese Taipei, AIFF president Praful Patel released a statement that, amongst other things, asked for no fingers to be pointed at anyone for the fiasco. Three days later, the head coach of the team, Thomas Dennerby, held a press-conference in which he did just that.

Over a remarkable half-hour, Dennerby squarely laid the blame for the breach of the bio-bubble on the AFC. He spoke about how the AFC delayed informing the hotel staff of seven positive tests amongst their staff, cases he believes were at the root of the outbreak ripping through his team. It was the AFC's bio-bubble, and they had botched it, he said with conviction.

What makes it odd, though, is the apparent discrepancy in Dennerby laying the blame at AFC's door and Clause 5.1 of the AFC's 'special rules applicable to AFC competitions during the COVID-19 pandemic'. This states that the host organization - in this case the AIFF - shall be responsible for both the implementation of preventative measures in all controlled access areas (the bio-bubble) and the testing process.

What is equally curious, though, is that that AFC have not yet released a statement responding to the allegations raised.

For greater clarity these are the relevant clauses as mentioned in the rulebook.

"....the Host Organisation shall be responsible for:

5.1.1. Implementing preventative measures in all Controlled Access Areas in compliance with the medical protocol set by the AFC and the relevant authorities of the host country, at its own cost;


5.1.2. organising and covering the cost of the COVID-19 testing process for the AFC Delegation and Participating Teams/Participating Clubs upon their arrival to the host country and (if required) on an ongoing basis, as well as for organising and covering the cost of the COVID-19 testing process for Participating Teams/Participating Clubs already based in the host country. This shall include, without limitation, the purchase of testing kits, the delivery of testing, the analysis of samples and the results management process. The Host Organisation shall ensure that these obligations are discharged using appropriately skilled personnel and in a timely manner, in the utmost confidence."

A separate AFC document, 'Match operations protocol during the COVID-19 pandemic (Edition 2021)', has this:

"Host Organisations shall be responsible to ensure all other Individuals involved in the Match (e.g. drivers, on-pitch medical staff, hotel staff, etc) are tested in accordance with the above requirements, with special focus on those in close contact with the Participating Players, Participating Officials, Match Officials and the AFC Delegation. In principle, only those who have been tested negative shall be allowed to access a Controlled Access Area."

Each tournament has a Local Organising Committee (LOC) that handles the day-to-day, under the supervision of the continental body (or the world body, as the case may be). In the case of the WAC, the LOC is headed by Patel. It has two project directors, Ankush Arora and Nandini Arora, both appointed by the AIFF. In mid-2021, there was a report on how the Federation's general secretary, Kushal Das, would be taking a "more hands-on approach" with the LOC.

Going by the two clauses within 5.1, and the detail of the match operations document, it would appear that the LOC is responsible for the maintenance of the bio-bubble and everything that goes with it.

In fact, for months before the tournament, the AIFF had spoken about how they had been working with the Maharashtra Government to ensure the safety of all 12-nations. There had been multiple meetings on this.

This is brought into even sharper relief considering India are the only team based out of that particular hotel in Navi Mumbai. Every other team is spread across different locations in Mumbai and Pune, two-to-a-hotel.

Consider also that the AIFF has experience in building and maintaining a bio-bubble in conjunction with the AFC - for the AFC Champions League group stages in Goa. Things went smoothly there with the AFC supervising, and the AIFF doing the day-to-day.

When ESPN contacted AFC about the situation, their statement read, "The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is deeply disappointed with the unexpected and sad turn of events that led to the withdrawal of the India women's national team from the ongoing AFC Women's Asian Cup India 2022.

"We wish the infected players and officials a speedy and full recovery while assuring them of our fullest support and the best medical care."

Now that the first finger has been pointed, it becomes even more pertinent to know just who was responsible for the crisis. Three days on from the chaos of India's exit, we continue to have more questions than answers.