“There’s over 1.2 billion people over there and we can’t come up with 11 f**king guys to make a team?”
The above sentence, though said in jest, is sadly true. A nation like India, from reaching the pinnacles of Asian football in the 1950s (where they famously qualified for the World Cup but were not allowed to participate as they preferred to play barefoot), from being one of the Asian Football Confederation, from being one of the best teams in Asia to languishing in 165th position in the latest FIFA rankings. Even countries like Maldives which has less than 1/3rd of our population is above us! Very few Indian players are even recognised in the football world. The names that may crop up like Baichung Bhutia (the first Indian to ever play for a European club – FC Bury), Sunil Chhetri (played half a season for Kansas City Wizards) and no, Michael Chopra is not Indian. He is English. So that about rounds it up! For now, all we can do is analyse where we went wrong, for such a steep decline in standards has rarely been seen in world football.
1) Politics and Sports don’t add up
Well, one of the main problems of any sports organisation in India is that it is in most cases organised by politicians who frankly care about the sport only ’till it fills up their coffers. Their only connection to the sport is in monetary terms which is how one of the biggest profit organisations in the world called the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control in India) is one of the richest government organisations in the world. It was controlled by the National Agricultural Minister, Mr. Sharad Pawar who is now President of cricket’s main body, the ICC. And this case doesn’t hold true just on football, it is true for other sports like the Olympic sports, hockey etc. Bob Houghton was recently sacked for bad results but that was not just the case, it was revealed that he had also ALLEGEDLY racially abused an Indian Football official due to which the wheels of politics began to turn. Houghton was subsequently sacked, despite an Indian footballer’s view to the contrary. I don’t hate politics, I’m just trying to make a point here!
2) Cricket is the main sport
Since the historic 1983 World Cup win over the mighty West Indies, cricket’s popularity has soared – and how! Ever since, the popularity of cricket has eclipsed many sports, the main victims being football and hockey. The masses – and big ticket sponsors – all threw their weight behind cricket and jumped on the continuously expanding bandwagon. The cricket fans would be mostly fanatic and for many it would be the only sport they properly know. The fact that cricket is also known as the poor man’s sport is also helping its spread throughout the country. Though recently, the cricket trend has stopped with the popularity of European football leagues like the English Premier League (followed fanatically by the urban youth) and La Liga (mostly followed by the parents of the urban youth who have grown up seeing players like Cruyff, Beckenbauer and other such) among others.
Another sub-point that can be made is the footballer’s yearn for support. They yearn for the fans to scream their name when they score a goal, they yearn for the fans to be there whether they are in form or out of form. With the exception of the Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal affair (which has an almost Old Firm-esque feel to it) players mostly play to half-empty stadiums. The newspapers are not bothered enough to extensively cover the various tournaments, too busy covering much more popular leagues like the EPL. Ask any football fan to mention any 5 clubs in Indian football and they would stutter. Ask them to mention the clubs playing in the EPL and they would rattle off the names like a parrot. Indian football needs the support!
3) Lack of a proper grass-root structure
The grass roots have been left undeveloped for a long time. Despite a young person having oodles of talent for the beautiful game, there are hardly any facilities to improve himself unless he comes from a middle-class background. Football in India is controlled by the AIFF (All India Football Federation) which receives funds from FIFA but the organisation that is in charge of youth football (the Sports Authority of India) do not get any such grants from FIFA. All over the country (except for Kolkata) there have been below average facilities for the player to develop himself. As mentioned before, only money could get you in any football coaching place. Such a thing cannot be afforded by majority of the population. In overpopulated places like Mumbai, there are hardly any grounds that a football fan could play in with most children opting to play in their building compounds. Also, Indian parents are known to give academics more importance than extra curricular activities, therefore even if the correct facilities are in place, the parents are too reluctant to allow the child to pursue his dream. However, things are improving as a league called the Street League which aims to help under privileged children understand their abilities and chances of this happening has increased.
Well, that signals the end of this topic. So what do you think? What can be done to save Indian football?