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Delayed kit leaves national team in the lurch

NEW DELHI: The Indian football team is scheduled to play an international friendly against Oman on Thursday as part of their preparation for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup in UAE. However, Sunil Chhetri & Co are still awaiting the full set of official kit — including the practice kit and national team jerseys.

The kit was to be supplied by Gurgaon-based sportswear brand, Six5Six, which has replaced Nike as the official kit sponsor of the national team in a deal with All India Football Federation (AIFF) reported to be worth anywhere between Rs 8-10 crore.

As a result, the 28-member squad, which landed in Abu Dhabi on December 20, has been forced to train away from the public glare wearing the old training kit provided by Nike, which did not renew its contract with the AIFF after declining to match the price quoted by Six5Six.

Nike’s contract was to run until December 31, 2018 but, after the sports apparel and footwear giant refused to continue with the AIFF, the federation roped in Six5Six in mid-October this year.

The deal with Six5Six was facilitated by the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which operates the Indian Super League and is owned by IMG-Reliance Industries. IMG-Reliance is also the marketing partner of the AIFF.

Despite being the first nation from Asia to reach Abu Dhabi for the AFC Cup and the first to hold practice sessions, the Indian team – which will also play a local club side on December 30 apart from the Oman friendly – has been deprived of new practice and team jerseys. It was important for a player to actually get a feel of the new clothing so that any defect could be corrected before the tournament starts.

Because the kit hasn’t reached the team, the federation hasn’t uploaded a single photo of the team’s training session in Abu Dhabi on its website as under the new contract, it cannot show the players training in the old kit. It’s also been learnt that the players will receive the team jerseys only on the eve of their match against Oman, leaving them with very little time to adjust to it.

Sources informed that practice kit has begun arriving in UAE in batches. However, some of the jerseys have been ill-fitting while some bear the same jersey numbers. This has, apparently, angered head coach Stephen Constantine so much so that the Briton called up AIFF president Praful Patel to express his displeasure.

The AIFF and FSDL, meanwhile, have started a blame game over the issue.

When TOI contacted AIFF secretary general Kushal Das, he stressed that the federation was not at fault. “There’s no reason for creating unnecessary controversy. Some of the kits have already been received, and by Tuesday the players will have all the kits with them.”

An FSDL insider squarely put the blame on AIFF. “Nobody from the AIFF mentioned that they required different set of jersey numbers for the Oman friendly and the AFC Cup. Discussions were only about the AFC Cup jersey numbers. That list, which was provided by the AIFF, was sent to the vendor and, accordingly, the numbers were printed.”

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