MUMBAI: Every FIFA World Cup reminds us Indians of our limitations in the sport, some of which may be inherent. Is Indian footballing system capable enough to produce top footballers? Is the nation physically not fit to play such game of stamina? Is the lack of mainstream media support preventing us from reaching our potential? These and many other questions come to our mind and become all the more pressing during the World Cup, while cheering for our “doosri” and not “pehli” country.
It is not that Indians don’t love football, they do. Despite India’s well-documented love for cricket, there are many places in India where football comes before everything. We have a professional football league (i.e I-League) in India since 2007, but the fact is except a very few most of the Indian players are not fully professional as they are employed by various government organisations such as Railways, Income-tax and CAG. To change this scenario the All India Football Federation partnered with IMG Reliance to launch Indian Super League in 2014, modeled on the pattern of the Indian Premier League, world’s most popular domestic cricket league.
The idea of the latest initiative was to make football a viable career option for players and promote the game among the masses. But dose this commercial venture led to the creation of a world class national team? If franchise leagues were enough to develop a sport then we would have won a couple world titles in hockey given the franchise hockey league started way back in 2005, but instead now a days we are happy with just qualifying for the Hockey World Cup and Olympics. Off course the formation of ISL did allowed Indian footballers to make more money from the profession of football but that did not necessarily transformed them into top players, ready to compete with the rest of the world. Even after four years of ISL India still struggle to defeat nondescript teams like Saint Kitts and Nevis and Nepal.
Do Indian players lack the physical strength and agility needed to be world class players? This is a valid question. Cricket does not require the kind of physical stamina and resilience that football requires. This makes it easier to be succeed in cricket if one is not following a very strict fitness regime. This, however, is not true in football. Take an example of Indian hockey team which still holds the record of winning the most number of Olympic golds lost it’s significance at world stage due to this physical aspect of the game once the European teams started to take the sport more seriously from mid 1970s.
Even there is no media attention given to football. Remember, how all the national news channels completely stop doing other works and focus whole day whenever Indian cricket team plays. It’s the same media who hardly bothered to give any coverage when India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup after eight years. While many can argue that a sport doesn’t need the media to stay relevant. However, it has to be popular enough and have a strong enough fanbase to thrive without media attention. Unfortunately it’s not the same for Indian football.
There is no lack of exposure, lack of broadcasting, money, excitement, larger-than-life players, because football has plenty of all of that. It comes down to its competition. That competition is of course cricket, which Indians follow like a religion. This is not to say that football is not big, or growing in the country, or that it is not cared about, followed, or watched, but it is not the primary sport. However, if the government were to integrate sports into schooling and promote talent more, India’s chances at playing in the World Cup may increase.
Lastly, more than anything Indian football team need support from us Indians. Whenever we heard somebody say “what the use of supporting Indian football team it’s not winning anything big” it simply baffles the mind. Being the Indian is not enough for us we actually need reason to support our own country, there is nothing more shameful than this. If we don’t believe in our players then how come they would believe in themselves? It’s good to have a meri doosri country but let’s not forget our pehli country.