Football in India needs encouragement

Samarjit Kambam *

Manipur's Footballer who represented India at  U-17 FIFA World Cup honored by Chief Minister :: October 16 2017
Manipur's Footballer who represented India at U-17 FIFA World Cup honored by CM on Oct 16 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

A nation with a population of a billion plus and football had been a lost soul in the sporting world of India for decades. The sport of football seemed non-existent in the country except in the North Eastern States and a few other states like Goa and Kerala. Out of the picture in the world of football, the youths of the nation who love football had the notion that football has no place in India until the qualification of the Indian Team (U-17) of the recently held FIFA World Cup.

The country’s youths who love football are a bunch of Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool etc supporters for the sole reason of non existence of football in India. They know only their favourite European Clubs inside out right from the first team squad members to the youngest academy player whereas knowledge of Indian football is limited to Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri. Even though our boys in blue are left behind without reaching quarter final, simply qualifying for the FIFA World Cup is a great achievement in itself.

When it comes to a World Cup for Football organised by FIFA, our boys in blue are newbies, but they have the potential and the show would have been grandeur if the sport of football was given more encouragement in India since years back. Football lovers of the nation ask themselves, “Why does India with the second largest population in the world and a fast developing nation fare so poorly in football when compared to other countries?”.

A very reasonable one to ponder with. Even many underdeveloped small countries of Africa have been producing quality football players in the international arena since decades back with most of their players growing up in poverty. In the history of India, it was only in 1950 that India qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time but was not participated by the Indian team.

The reason for non participation was mired in controversy. It is said that India pointed the finger of accusation to FIFA for banning the Indian team to play barefooted as the players were not so acquainted with a pair of snickers after India reeled as servants under the British colonial yolk and wearing a pair of shoes was more of an anathema for the Indians.

FIFA claimed that playing barefooted was banned only after the 1952 Olympics. Some researchers in the field claimed that the blame given to FIFA by India was an affair to hush-up the real reasons as Indian team was deliberately not sent for participation taking into account the cost of conveyance and other charges to be incurred.

What a shoddy reason and if that were true, then football in India was given the same treatment of inferiority given by the British to the Indians. Luckily, no, not luckily, after greater effort is given in training, after a gap of almost seven decades India is able to qualify in the U-17 FIFA world cup. Thanks to our new coach. He looks cool too.

Here again, it is worthwhile to mention that eight players from the remotest corner of North Eastern region i.e. Manipur are included in the Indian team. It is the only state that saves the face of India in the world of sports in various arenas even though step motherly treatment is given to this state which is my birthplace. No doubt, Manipur is the Sports Hub of India. I need not elaborate on this.

Debates galore among many football lovers in India. Some come up with reasons such as climate of India, genetic factors, physical structure, stature, not so athletic and less endurance of Aryan and Dravidian origin blah blah …. Bullshit reasons, I should say.

What about tropical countries of Africa hotter than India and what about colder nations such as Russia? There is nothing wrong with the physical structure, stature and endurance in strength of Aryan and Dravidian residue Indians. Cricket is also an outdoor game that needs lot of endurance, consistency, precision, micro-second presence of mind and requires hell-lotta technical stuff.

How come India is fairly good in cricket and scores pathetically low in football? The entity called BCCI has turned out to be the largest cricketing body in the world with IPL taking the game of cricket to the next level and India really shines in this particular game with the reward of being a cricketer far bigger in comparison with other sports.

So, societal and parental pressure crops up especially in mainland India by urging their kids to pursue cricket only with the glamour and prestige associated with it. The main reason is that Indians except for a few populace don’t love football as a sport. In this big nation, football is not encouraged at all. Being a country with ninety percent of its population as cricketheads, the sport of football has no place in the minds of most of mainland Indians.

This time also, most pretend to love football just because India qualified to play in the turf of FIFA. It is a very welcome development that the nation is able to produce football players in the international arena recently. And our boys in blue are quite promising for they have the potential and talent, only that they are far behind in techniques compared to players of other nations who have participated umpteen times in FIFA World Cup.

Our boys in blue, even though shorter in stature than players of other nations or group of nations such as United States, Columbia and Ghana are quite aggressive, tireless and played without fear even though it is their maiden appearance in the U-17 FIFA World Cup.

Football does not require much monetary resource like cricket. What the players need to practice is a football, a pair of snickers and a field. That’s all. A world class quality cricket bat is costlier than all the apparels needed to practice football.

As per the writer’s opinion, the birth of a youngblood football entity called ISL is the reason for India to be able to qualify in the (U-17) FIFA World Cup for they recognised the need to replicate the professionalism of the European leagues. Adoption of talented football players of India as a Corporate Social Responsibility by Multinationals and mammoth companies in India such as TATA Group of Companies, Reliance, IMG etc also comes as a boon to bring up football in India upto this stage.

Ironically, the pruning of money allocated for football to almost half than before in the Union Budget for sports come as a forceful slap in the face of football in India. It’s really unethical of the Indian government to pump all resources and attention to cricket only which doesn’t have a spot in Olympics also for the sole reason of being a sport played by commonwealth countries only.

Some years back, I had gone through a piece in a sports column of a national daily that in China, their government deploys members of sports authorities to every nook and corner of the country to handpick talented football players from a very young age. On the flip side, our government doesn’t seem quite enthused with football which is the most popular sport in the world. The various sports authorities in India seem to exist only for name sake.

The sportsmen in various spheres of sports are deprived of basic infrastructure, sports kits and diets. Besides, nepotism and favouritism still rule the roost for the various sports bodies of India. Of late, the popularity of football in India has climbed the chart by a slight margin, but the irony is that the relation between the rise in football lovers in the country and the attention given to it by the government just seems to get more inverse.

In our nation, football requires constant encouragement and the government needs to inspire the football lovers. In this era of technical players, our nation’s football players need grooming in technical playing and constant exposure to mingle with their foreign counterparts.

Scouting, state-of-the-art facilities, specialist coaches, adopted programmes for the different age ranges and successful professionalisation are some of the vital factors to produce quality football players in India. I dearly hope that our footballers overcome the logjams faced by them with greater support from the government so that India become a top-notch football nation one day.

Time for the boys in blue to go techie techie.

* Samarjit Kambam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 31, 2017.

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