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Indian football takes a step back

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It is often said that India is a one sport nation. Cricket is the only sport with which we Indians can actually associate ourselves. The reason behind this is India has always performed well at the competitive level and has always been among the top nations of the game. Twice we have won the cricket World Cup, and one of those victories came just a few years back. So it is obvious that the masses will be attracted to the likes of M. S. Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli. Sadly, this has made us forget the other sports which also exist in India. Hockey is our national sport and also one of the most neglected sports in India. Every Indian is well-versed with IPL squads, but people hardly know about the Indian national hockey squad.

The same attitude is shown towards football, the most popular sport all over the world. Football is played by 209 countries (according to the FIFA rankings), where India stands at 143. The likes of Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Paul and Clifford Miranda are treated as second class sportsmen in our country. The amount of money and fame which the footballers receive is not even half of what the cricketers get. Football in India lacks infrastructure. The horrible conditions of the grounds and the stadiums are examples of this. All the successful nations of the game have at least 6 teams on the basis of age starting from U10 to U23 teams, and then the senior team. A legendary Portuguese midfielder recently visited India and was shocked to find that India does not have teams below the U16 level.

The senior national team’s performance has been vulnerable in recent years. Just a few days back, we failed to automatically qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, which will be held in 2014, and thus our hopes of playing in AFC Asian Cup 2015 in Australia have been shattered. These performances aren’t doing any good to attract sponsors. To improve the sorry state of Indian football, money is required. The AIFF has failed to attract investors in recent years for Indian football. Even though AIFF have sponsors in Reliance IMG, they haven’t done enough to take the game forward in the country and since there are hardly any returns from the I-League, we don’t see any interest from the corporates. Business houses and the billionaires are not interested in investing in football because it won’t earn them much profit. The investors are correct in their own way. If they don’t earn profit, there is no point in investing cash.

Often few orthodox cricket followers say, IPL is ruining cricket. Not sure whether it is affecting Indian cricket, but surely it is harming other sports. Football is one of those unfortunate victims. The defending IPL champions, Kolkata Knight Riders or popularly known as KKR team owner Mr. Shah Rukh Khan (badshah of bollywood) has decided to host the IPL 6 opening ceremony in the Vivekananda Yuba Bharathi Krirangan, which is predominantly a football stadium. VYBK proudly boast a capacity of 1,20,000 seats and it is now the biggest football stadium in the world. The seating capacity had attracted SRK to take the decision of hosting the ceremony here. Meanwhile, Eden gardens will get ready for the first match of IPL 6.

The irony is, a football stadium will host an opening ceremony of a cricket tournament, neglecting the fact that the national football league of India ie the I-league will get hampered as a result. The West Bengal government, which is also the lawful owner of the stadium, has handed over its property to the IPL authorities, perhaps for a few crores of money. As a result, I-league matches in Kolkata have been shifted to the Kalyani football stadium. The latter stadium does not have any floodlights, so the match timings are mostly 2 pm and 4 pm in the afternoon! The current temperature in Kolkata has almost touched 40 degrees. Professional football players are drenching their energies in such sultry conditions.

Indian football takes a step back. Cricket has been given the edge yet again. As it is said, money talks. It is all about who has more money. R.I.P. Indian football.

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