The curious case of Indian Football
India is a highly diversified nation with people belonging to different castes, creed and religion. India also exhibits a similar type of diversity on another parameter – football. People in India are highly passionate about the game.
They support different clubs, talk about different leagues, boast about the glorious history of the club they support, have debates on players, managers, clubs, etc.
But very few of them talk about an Indian club, an Indian manager or even an Indian player.Indian football is limited to talks on Sunil Chhetri and Baichung Bhutia.
According to an Indian based TV rating agency TAM media research,football in India boasts of 121 million TV viewership which implies that football is followed passionately by many fans across the length and breadth of the country.But among them ,very few are Indian football fans.
There are many reasons for the lack of fan frenzy about Indian football. The primary reason being lack of awareness. A huge demographic divide exists as football is popular in a select few states of Goa, Kerala, West Bengal and the seven sisters of the North-East. Very few people are aware of the I-league, clubs in the I-league and the different tournaments happening in India.
Electronic media and print media telecast and report very less things about Indian football respectively. It would not be inappropriate to conclude that there are zero marketing and very less media coverage about Indian football.
Popular channels like Star Sports 4 (formerly ESPN) are willing to show England’s county cricket matches, Australia’s Big Bash games and highlights of EPL matches but they wont telecast a live I-league match simply because it gives them less viewership.
Another reason for disinterest in Indian football could be attributed to the lack of funding received by the AIFF(All India Football Federation) - the governing body of Indian football. Owing to the lack of finance, many successful brands are hesitant to associate themselves with Indian football to sponsor different events.
Lack of money and capital also results in poor infrastructural facilities because of which the players cannot compete at the global level. This creates a vicious circle of problems. Majority of the football club officials have an orthodox thinking and mentality in managing a football club. AIFF still reels under political pressure and excessive political interference that leads to lethargic decision-making. There is also an Indian psychology of having a safe and secure life. Football is not seen as a lucrative career option.
Constant comparisons with cricket leads Indian footballers succumb to peer as well as parental pressure. A 12th man of Chennai Super Kings will be showered with accolades, but a striker of Mohun Bagan FC will be advised to study and get a degree. All these problems have constantly retarded the growth of Indian football in spite of football being a popular sport in India.
These problems could be tackled with extreme sagacity and incessant dogmatism. It is quite important to promote football in different parts of the country where it has not made its mark. The club culture needs to be augmented to tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
Footballing talent in the country must be identified at the grass root level and effectively nurtured. It is important to improve the infrastructural facilities of local clubs and empower them to train talented youngsters. Indian football must be projected as a lucrative career choice.
Enthusiastic and passionate football fans across the country can contribute their bit by helping local clubs in their marketing and publicity divisions to attract possible potential sponsors. Football fans can also leverage social media to spread awareness about Indian football, current developments, upcoming matches, showcase the talented players, etc.The rise of Sania Mirza in tennis and Saina Nehwal in badminton saw many young girls taking avid interest in those sports. Similarly, a global football icon from India is the need of the hour to promote the indigenous brand of football. We must popularize our current football stars like Sunil Chhetri, Michael Chopra, Harmeet Singh, etc. quite extensively.