On 20th January, widely circulated reports by AIFF and other media houses claimed that Indian women’s team has defeated the 14th ranked Netherlands team. The reports were outright wrong and in this article I share the truth and the story of how a combination of ignorance, lies and casual reporting had created a myth across the country.
“Indian women create history, beat the Dutch”
“Indian women’s football team pulls off shock win over Dutch”
“Indian Women’s NT 1 – 0 Netherlands WNT. WAOHHH. Cheers and Jai Hind”
“Indian Women’s football team (ranked 52) defeated Netherlands women’s Football team (ranked 14) 1-0. #Respect”
These were some of the statements I saw on social network websites (as comments or news article headlines) while lazing around in my room on an otherwise ordinary Sunday of the 20th January. 20th January won’t anymore be an ordinary day as we have been told that Indian women’s team had made history. I was shocked, pleasantly, by the news. “Wow”, I thought, “the Indian women, who are hardly given exposure beyond SAFF competitions, have managed something incredible. Is this the beginning of something great for Indian football?”
After the initial shot of Adrenalin had mellowed down, I was a bit perplexed. How did I even miss the existence of this match? Yes, I had heard about a team from Netherlands playing in India, but never knew that India would be playing against Netherlands itself. A few casual Google searches didn’t help much. However, thanks to a report from German based journalist Chris Punnakkattu Daniel, it was clear that India had not played against the Netherlands women’s team (this, by default, indicates the national senior team, however one can always go into technicalities and claim otherwise). Meanwhile, the news spread all over the football circles of India, everyone rejoicing. Many who hardly talk about Indian football also took notice. In an age of internet and social network, such news about national pride travels at the speed of light and thus, in a few hours it was so overwhelming that it was a futile task to even try to get the facts straight by correcting them.
What was the general understanding?
Most people understood, India has defeated the Netherlands senior team (ranked 14th in FIFA), others thought it as an assorted Netherlands team made up of few first team players and U-19 players, whereas some described it as Netherlands U-23 team. As I dug deeper and deeper, it became clear how almost all the ideas floating around were wrong, even most of the journalist were totally in dark, those who weren’t didn’t show any intention of publishing an alternative report. As I started going through the ‘official version’ of the Indian football reports, the AIFF’s media releases, I was enraged. It seemed that AIFF, in its reports (can’t say deliberately or mistakenly) from 9th to 20th January, have projected a story, about the visiting team from Netherlands, based on half truths, misrepresentation of facts and in many cases outright lies. The reports were published by most media houses across India and thus got good visibility. As I see people around me believing something which never happened, I couldn’t help the feeling of being cheated by our own football association. I have witnessed many misrepresentations of fact about Indian football in media but this one tops all of them.
AIFF’s press releases – A fairy tale well told
Before coming to the details of the team from Netherlands, its worthwhile revisiting all the press releases from AIFF regarding the India – Netherlands matches (there were two, the first in Kolhapur saw Indian team losing 0-2). For the time being, just keep in mind that the team is neither the Netherlands senior team nor does it have any player from the senior team (I will furnish the evidences later).
Here’s AIFF declaring about the matches (Dutch Challenge for Indian Women) –
“The All India Football Federation has organised two International Exhibition matches between the Indian Women’s assorted team and the Dutch Women’s assorted team, to be played in Kolhapur and Navi Mumbai on January 17 and 20 respectively.”
So, at the start AIFF declared it as a ‘Dutch Women’s assorted team’. Slightly vague but still it helps one to distinguish it from a National team.
In another report, while interviewing Anadi Barua (Coach of Indian team), they describe the match as –
“ Indian women face a tough challenge when they take on The Netherlands in two exhibition matches”
And then, in the same report the interviewer asks –
“Given the fact that The Netherlands are ranked 14 in FIFA Rankings, isn’t it a tough challenge for you as a Coach?”
The coach, of course, goes with the flow explaining how challenging it is to play a higher ranked team .
So, this report makes the impression that we are playing against the 14th ranked team. AIFF seems to regard any team coming from Netherlands as ranked 14th in FIFA. Was that an one-off mistake? Certainly not, from then all the reports suffer from the same syndrome.
Now comes a big day, the team has finally landed in India. The AIFF’s report calls it “The arrival of the Netherlands Women’s football team!” Laden with the exclamation marks and smart tid-bits about Kolhapur, any mention about the team’s real name was conveniently forgotten.
So basically, even before the matches had started the initial ‘assorted team’ had gradually transformed into ‘Netherlands Women Football team’ and the word ‘ranked 14th’ was peppered generously.
Now what happened when the matches took place? Well, here’s what AIFF had to say after the first game, which India lost 0-2.
“The vociferous crowd echoed only one sentiment while cheering ‘India India…’ throughout the length of the International Friendly between The Indian Women Team and their Dutch counterparts”
“….the Indian Women failed to get the better of their Dutch counterparts, losing 2-0, but the SAFF Cup Champions can be proud of the fact that gave a good account of themselves against the 14th ranked outfit in the FIFA Women’s Rankings.”
Please read the above two statements again, and read the full original report if necessary and answer this simple question – Do you need to be a trained journalist to even know what’s wrong with these statements? One wonders how can official statements from AIFF can use “International friendly”, “14th ranked outfit in the FIFA” so loosely (If you are getting impatient on what exactly is this team, skip this and go the the next section to have a good laugh or to get outraged).
In two more reports, interviews of the coach of the visiting team and Indian goalkeeper, the same tune was played. The goalkeeper, Aditi Chauhan, was asked whether playing a much higher ranked country help? While reading her answer, how this was her biggest match till date (which is probably true, but not the way she claimed it was), I felt a tinge of guilt writing this article. It seems the players, like lakhs of Indian people were also given a false impression about the opponent.
Till now things were in control. Why? Because, firstly most Indians don’t care about football, and then most who care, don’t care about Women’s football. Thus, these misleading reports hardly mattered. And then something happened, and indeed as AIFF described, history did happen.
So, on the lazy Sunday, I like most people read this –
“Indian Women create history, beat the Dutch”
Technically, nothing wrong with the statement, we did beat a Dutch team, and probably this is the first time we have done so. But doesn’t the implications are different? Ok, ok, I won’t go into subjectivity here, let’s get to the facts. The report says –
“….the SAFF Cup Champions beat all the odds to master the 14th ranked Dutch team, and level the two-match Friendly, 1-1.”
Hmm. Strong word there, ‘master the 14th ranked Dutch team’, I wonder how would the real 14th ranked team would feel like if they had read this. Essentially, if one systematically goes through all the AIFF reports, apart from one vaguely written term ‘assorted team’ in the first report, all other reports have no indication that this is not the Netherlands senior team.
A team called CTO Amsterdam Talent Team
The team which played against the India is called CTO Amsterdam Talent Team, a team of players who are 15-19 years old. It is basically a team where the players are selected from all over the Netherlands and live together in Amsterdam. The goal of the program is to let the girls have a full-time training program (15-20 hours, 6 times a week) and make it possible for them to also finish their schools and get a diploma. The girls are in the program till they are ready to play in the Dutch women’s premier league.
Relevant facts about the team –
How many players from CTO Talent Team play in the Netherlands senior team?
What is the age composition of the squad ?
The oldest player in the squad is 19 years, 11 months; the youngest is 15yrs, 5 months. Overall, there were only 4 players above 18, 8 players between 17-18, 6 players between 16-17 and 5 players between 15-16.
Do they play in Netherlands junior teams?
The players are not necessarily part of Netherlands’ junior teams although many of them are members of u17 and u19 Netherlands squads.
How is Dutch FA (KNVB) associated?
The Dutch FA (KNVB) decides how they want the program to be. With the program, KNVB wants to push the level of women soccer in general, and the level of the national team, to a higher level.
Is there an Ajax connection as well?
This season the team has an arrangement with Ajax, whereby they train once a week with Ajax women squad (they have a lot of Dutch internationals), the girls can also play for the Ajax squad (some of the CTO players made their debut for Ajax).
Does the CTO team plays in a regular league?
Yes, The CTO team plays in a boys u16 3rd division league.
Has this team played against any other international team?
Yes. They had lost 0-3 against Equatorial Guinea in September, 2012. (Guinea Equatorial was then ranked # 62, now #54).
What’s in a name?
In India, Hindu deities take many names and avatars. Most Indians also have nicknames which are very different from their official names. It seems, true to its tradition, Indian media gave multiple avatars to the visiting team. The most common was of course, Netherlands Women’s team. Apart from that there were vague terms like Netherlands’ assorted team. According to the reports from ‘Press Trust of India’ (PTI), the visiting side was an assorted outfit, a mix of first team and Under-19 players. There was yet another term used – Netherlands XI, a name apparently given to this team. Well, for an average reader, what does India 1 – 0 Netherlands XI mean? Technically, it might be alright, but is these kinds of journalism helpful for the reader? This is what yellow journalism is all about. There have been also speculations this being a U-23 team. Well, yes technically all players are indeed U-23, so is a team where all players are below 10. Things need to make sense the way they are put into context, just technical correctness doesn’t help.
If one goes through the information of CTO team, one can only be impressed by Netherlands’ youth structure (gosh they got 3rd division for boys U16 and we don’t even have a proper senior 2nd division league!). Given that the CTO team get to play regularly, rubbing shoulders with top Ajax women players, playing with them is no discredit at all. In fact, we can learn a lot from them. In such matches the results hardly matter, for India, it’s a learning phase. AIFF’s effort of arranging these games and getting crowds to watch them are indeed praiseworthy, but what irks the most is the way they projected the whole thing, made fools out thousands of Indian football followers and gave wrong/misleading information to lakhs of people (probably even more than we can imagine). Such slack reporting can only bring us shame. The CTO team has previously lost 0-3 against Equatorial Guinea, a team which according to FIFA rankings is at par with India, thus, if anything CTO’s win against India shows their improvement. If history was made that day, it would not be because of the football played, but the kind of ‘yellow journalism’ exhibited. I also wondered the role of other journalists who are not affiliated to AIFF. Till now, apart from Chris (who ironically is German based) no other Indian journalist has talked about this, everyone kept spreading AIFF’s reports. All this confirms our apprehensions about Indian football not reaching anywhere near professionalism in near future.
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