Football, the most popular sport in the world and you would think that the second most populous nation in the world would figure in the top 20 teams in the world. No? Top 50? No? Top 100 then surely! Well you are in for a rude shock! India is ranked 168th in the world out of a possible 209 nations that play football. While it is not right to criticize the players, it is high time the authorities in charge step up and start looking at the sport in a serious manner. Football in India offers tremendous scope and if managed properly, it has the potential to put the IPL to shame.
The country’s premier domestic competition in India is the I-League. The National football league which was the main domestic football league from 1996-2007 was rejigged with a few changes and the I-League was born in 2007. The I-League is contested by 14 teams with each team playing all the other teams on a home and away basis. Teams from West Bengal and Goa dominate the I-league, with eight of the fourteen teams in the league from the two states. The three teams that have won the I-League (Dempo, Churchill brothers and Salgaocar) are all based in Goa.
The Santosh trophy is similar to the Ranji trophy and is contested by the state associations. The Durand cup is the third oldest football competition in the world, only behind the F.A Cup and the Scottish cup. Football in India is mainly concentrated in the North East and in Goa although the sport is picking up fast in the rest of the country but not in a big enough way.
The ranking by itself tells the tale of Indian football. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is the apex body which governs Indian football. Praful Patel, a Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister for heavy industries is the chairman of the AIFF. He was the person who scripted the downfall of our national carrier, Air India. As long as Patel is in charge of the AIFF, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel for Indian football.
Despite frenzied efforts by FIFA to take the game to the next level in India, the game is, in fact, going nowhere. Just when things started looking up with Bob Houghton in charge of the Indian team, baseless charges were slapped against him and he was forced to resign. Under Bob Houghton, Team India played remarkably well and constantly punched above their weight, the highlights being the Nehru cup triumph, AFC challenge cup triumph and qualifying for the AFC Asian cup after a span of 34 years. After Houghton resigned, Team India has been largely listless. They were swamped by all the teams in the 2012 AFC challenge cup. Lets hope that India can retain the 2012 Nehru Cup, which begins on the 22nd of August.
When will the administrators wake up and spend more time and allocate more funds for sports? Only time will tell. Hopefully with more people taking to the sport and with the popularity of football surging ahead, there is a flicker of hope. The 2030 FIFA World Cup champions maybe!