Indian Football: Where Is It Headed?

ind-foot.jpgIt is said that in India, Cricket is religion and if Cricket is religion, how is it that in Secular India, football has taken a backseat? We live in a country where a portion of the Union Budget is reserved for sports, which more than ever is devoured by cricket because of which funds for football, tennis and other sports are swept under the mattress.

It is not known to everyone that in the year 1950, India was the 14th country to participate in the FIFA World Cup, but was forbidden to play for we insisted on playing barefoot. This was ridiculous. Never before had I heard that the Government could not provide for a pair of boots to each of its players who were to represent the country in the world’s biggest sporting competition and most watched event. On the other hand, each cricketer gets a house and an AC car from the Government. Today, nothing much has changed.

Fresh from tasting victory in The Jawaharlal Nehru Cup in the year 2007, the nation has been brimming with pride. However, in the 75-year history of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), all that our team can boast of is the Nehru Cup, SAFF Cup and the Colombo Cup. Silverware is amiss from our cabinet which contains nothing but cobwebs.

FIFA President had visited the country’s football capital, Kolkata, to watch the most talked of match, East Bengal vs. Mohun Bagan. He even promised to provide the AIFF with funds for the betterment of football in India. Whether we have received the sum and what has happened of it is another issue. Incidentally, The Yuva Bharti Krirangan or the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata is the largest football stadium in Asia with a capacity of 90,000, more than that of the Emirates Stadium. However, the seating arrangement is below par with spectators having to sit on the steps instead of seats. Ticket prices range from Rs. 10 to Rs. 150 (only during the derbies). Though, the match-day prices bring in the common masses, they generate little revenue to expand the club. These clubs in India, unlike those in Europe, are not even proper clubs, but merely demarcated enclosures like in the Kolkata Maidan. The ground of Tollygunge Agragami is a happy grazing ground for cattle. Yet, Kolkata sends 4 teams in the ONGC National Football League for the matches every year.

Football is perhaps the only sport which is played and better enjoyed in spite of rain. However, football teams in India pray to repel the rain-bearing clouds. The grounds in Europe have artificial turfs, built on a raised ground so as to allow flow of water and prevent puddles and pools. These artificial turfs are actually sprayed with water before each half of the game and in India, we cannot even afford to spill a glass of water on the pitch. This is so, because even a drizzle can turn the dirt-filled pitches slushy and slippery, such that during the match the players are worried about their uniforms and at the end of they look like a bunch of school kids involved in a mud fight.

Funds are required not only for infrastructure but for promotion as well. Cricket has two rival leagues, the IPL and ICL. Hockey has the Premier Hockey League and Tennis has WTA events in Kolkata, Hyderabad and even the Chennai Open. Where has football’s promotion eluded? Film stars battle it out at auctions to rope in the best possible cricketers in the world, Sania creates a big fuss over playing in India and stars from prime time television promote the PHL (Garv nahin to Kuchh nahin). What’s more interesting is that Bollywood stars like John Abraham, Uday Chopra and Abhishek Bachchan have promoted football, but only for the English Premier League teams.

Rare feats like Bhaichung Bhutia playing for English side Bury FC, Mr. Sankar refereeing in a FIFA World Cup 2002 match and Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi officiating in a FIFA World Cup 2006 game go unnoticed in this country where cricketers are revered more than the Gods. Goal! failed to do for football what Chak De! did for hockey. Remember, Cricket is a gentleman’s game, but Football is a man’s game. It involves lot of stamina and skill unlike a lazy game like cricket. Fans of European clubs know everything starting from Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoes’ brand to Beckham’s latest hairstyle, but they can’t even name the footballers of their own country. They stay up all night to catch matches on television but do not even read the Indian Football column in the sports page of the local newspapers. At the end of it, who is to blame? The Government, the authorities or ourselves? Rhetoric, isn’t it?

Now I pose a few questions to the readers. Would you like to see football erased from the face of the country or cheer our nation’s men in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup? Would you rather rejoice at our qualification or mourn England’s exit. Would you defend the honour of your team or paint your faces with Brazil’s colours? It is in our hands now. This is where we, the youth of our country come in. Remember, unless there is a demand there is no supply.

Joydeep Roy

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