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Why India coach Igor Stimac’s demand to allow diaspora players is justified?

Why India coach Igor Stimac’s demand to allow diaspora players is justified?

For years coaches and experts have batted for the inclusion of the PIOs, is it finally the team India should do so

India head coach, Igor Stimac has once again raised the issue of including diaspora players in the Indian football team. Following India’s 2-1 loss to Qatar, Stimac argued that India would regularly qualify for the World Cup if diaspora players were allowed to play in the team. This comment has been met with scepticism, given that the Indian government does not allow dual citizenship.

“We’re one of the few countries that still does not allow diaspora players to play – India would be qualifying to the World Cup regularly if we do that,” Stimac said after India’s loss to Qatar.

Why does Stimac’s demand make sense?

However, Stimac’s point is not entirely unfounded. In Indian football, PIO stands for Person of Indian Origin. These are players who hold citizenship in another country but have ancestral ties to India. Their inclusion broadens the talent pool, giving coaches access to a wider range of skills and experience.

These players bring valuable international experience and skills from top football leagues, which could drastically improve the Indian team’s competitive edge. Furthermore, their presence would inspire young Indian footballers, fostering greater interest and development in the sport at the grassroots level.

Qatar and other Asian teams making use of PIOs

Qatar’s proper use of of foreign-born players has been instrumental in their football success, culminating in their impressive showing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and their championship win at the AFC Asian Cup 2023.

Several other Asian countries have effectively used diaspora players to boost their national football teams. Countries such as the UAE, and Japan have included foreign-born players, mainly from South America and Europe, into their squads. Iraq defeated Japan convincingly in the group round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023. The team featured 11 players of Iraqi descent who were born or raised outside of Iraq but decided to represent the country.

Which diaspora/ PIO players can India target?

Similarly, India could benefit from integrating PIO players into the Indian Football Team set up. That being said let us take a look at the PIOs India can target if they actually want to levitate their condition and poor show.

Danny Batth

Danny Batth, a seasoned defender playing for Stoke City in the EFL Championship, is eager to don the Indian jersey. With an Indian father, Batth brings vast experience from English football. His defensive prowess and leadership qualities could provide much-needed solidity and guidance to India’s backline​.

Sarpreet Singh

Sarpreet Singh, currently with Hansa Rostock in Germany’s second division, is an exciting attacking midfielder. Born to Indian parents in New Zealand, Singh has Bundesliga experience with Bayern Munich. His creativity and vision on the field could be a game-changer for India’s midfield, enhancing their attacking options​.

Yan Dhanda

Yan Dhanda, now playing for Ross County in the Scottish Premiership, has a promising career ahead. The former Liverpool youth player, born to Indian parents in Birmingham, has expressed a desire to represent India for over years. His playmaking skills and attacking mindset would add depth to India’s offensive strategies who have struggled on it for long now and more now with Sunil Chhetri gone​​.

Is it time for India to allow PIOs? From Yan Dhanda to Dilan Markanday, diaspora players Indian Football Team can target

Dilan Markanday

Dilan Markanday, a winger for Aberdeen FC in the Scottish Premiership, made headlines as the first player of Indian descent to play for Tottenham Hotspur in a competitive match. His speed and dribbling skills could provide the Indian team with much-needed width and attacking options, making him a valuable asset​​.

Aryn Williams

Aryn Williams, an Australian-born midfielder with Indian roots, has experience in Indian football through his stint with NEROCA FC. Despite facing challenges in obtaining an Indian passport, Williams remains keen to represent India. His midfield versatility and understanding of Indian football could be highly beneficial​.

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Why can’t PIOs play for the Indian Football Team?

The Indian government has a long-standing policy prohibiting Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) from representing India internationally, a restriction that dates back to 2008. Furthermore, India does not permit dual citizenship under its Constitution and Citizenship Act of 1955.

This means that OCI and PIO cardholders must surrender their passports and reside in India for at least 12 months to apply for an Indian passport, making it difficult for footballers to choose between representing their adopted or birth countries.

Is AIFF taking any measures for the same?

For years coaches and experts have batted for the inclusion of the PIOs, finally, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) declared that they were actively exploring ways to utilize OCI and PIO footballers. Last August, AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey established a task force to identify and list potential players of Indian origin who could represent India. 

“We will first form a comprehensive database on the OCI and PIO footballers around the world, and then look for the best possible ways to use such players to take Indian football forward,” said the AIFF President.

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