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Indian Football in Dire Straits: Are felonies of the Shepherd to be blamed?

Anuj Bansal
515   //    30 Jun 2018, 20:34 IST

Co authored by - Ayushman Dubey

© Hindustan Times

People are sheep, TV is the Shepherd”.

-Jess C. Scott

Perhaps nothing validates the aforesaid truth more than the gigantic emphasis that the shepherd has laid on The Gentlemen’s game, which in turn, has proven counter-productive to almost every other sport in India. The truth gets a notch darker if some light is casted on the miserable situation of Indian Football, which suffers from the vices of improper training, underpaid athletes, lack of professionalism, and much more. It is unfortunate, though unsurprising, that Indian Football has failed to dribble its way through the dire straits despite having tasted the glory back in 1960s. There have been short-lived moments of resurgence every now and then, but the renaissance seems far away. Authors intend to analyze, principally and empirically, the present state of affairs and to propose a plausible solution through the concluding remarks.

It is indubitable that people, particularly Indians, have a herd-like mentality when it comes to viewership of content, and the root cause of deterioration that football has been subjected to finds its ground in it. There is no denying that Indian Football served its viewers with setbacks after setbacks all through 1970s. It is also understandable that football standards were rapidly growing all over the globe and Indian Clubs had neither the resource nor the vision to keep with that pace, but interestingly that was the situation with Indian Sports in general. In this context, the heroics of Kapil Dev and his men who lifted the 1983 Cricket World Cup at The Lord’s opened a wondrous opportunity for the development of Cricket and the audience by and large became Cricket Crazy, never granting another chance to football. Their conquest even led the Reliance Industries to push through the lobbies and bring the next World Cup event to India. Government attention on sports development was limited to cricket now, for it being in consonance with the popular will and being associated with nation’s pride. Making things worse, the brand advertisement through Cricket followed pursuit post liberalization, and voluminous private investment started to flow in; so much so that the Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar struck an advertisement deal of 100 Crores back in 2001, whereas the total income of All India Football Federation stands at a disappointing 62.71 Crores, and a meagre net profit of 0.81 Crores. Adding to the crisis, football fans in India follow western leagues that boast of big names for its superior game-play and professionalism, but fail to garner support for the domestic clubs which they actually ought to empathize with. The question that the nation therefore needs to ask is the righteousness of Shepherd’s obsession with Cricket owing to its ability to generate pounds, which has lynched the growth prospects of Football. 

Authors agree that the performance of Indian footballers is questionable too. Despite being ranked 127th in 2005, Indian men failed to qualify for grand tournaments like the 2015 Asia Cup and further slipped down to 171st rank. In Women’s Football too, India has won each edition of South Asian Cup, though it has been handed embarrassing defeats by better opponents; primarily because much like their men counterparts, they lack a proper structure, training regime and participation in fixtures outside the Indian sub-continent. However, it is to be emphasized that the celebrated international players develop most of their skills playing club football for most part of the year, and consequentially their respective countries reap its fruits. Likewise, strengthening the Indian Domestic Football structure and promoting Indian players to play in bigger and better leagues offers their skill enhancement. 

To contextualize, the impact of a strong domestic football circuit can be understood from the fact that viewership of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, probably the biggest football event India has ever hosted and been a part of was nowhere near that of the Indian Super League, even though it is still in a nascent stage. A novel attempt at resuscitating Indian football, ISL in India has helped players like Sunil Chhetri and Sandesh Jhingan breach the coveted 10 million INR mark at the auctions. This is welcoming news for otherwise not very well paid Indian players in the domestic tournaments barring big traditional football powerhouses like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal; since they get the opportunity to perform at an upgraded level. Although the viewership of Indian Super League is rising, a flop-show on the front of actual ground support might repudiate the effort.

It therefore appears that the renaissance in Indian Football is nearby, with the Shepherd allotting more space to the game on its screen. To this effect, Indian domestic clubs and the ISL are soon to begin with their women teams on the lines of European clubs, but lack of interest from both the administrators and the viewers has affected their advancement and stunted their growth; as evident from their non-participation in competitions like Indian Women’s League. Today, the media giants are filling their coffers by promoting Indian Football after the emotional words from the national team captain Sunil Chhetri, who pleaded to the fans through social media to come and support the national team in their Inter-Continental Cup campaign, but it remains to be seen how long the frenzy lives. While the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai was abuzz on the finals of Indian Premier League, the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in the vicinity was crying for the fanfare it deserves. India still has a long way to go, both in terms of skills and results. Though the approach that authors have recommended is potent to solve the Indian football crisis, it can only be hoped that the herds diverge and appreciate the merit, based on which India has qualified for the Asia Cup 2019 and has risen to a global rank of 97. 

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Anuj Bansal
Graduate in law, I am a sports law and policy enthusiast presenting pursuing management at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
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