Indian Football, What the Heck Is That?

Due to lack of interest, football in India is headed the wrong way

Every time a Premier League game or FIFA World Cup comes around, a question crops up in my mind. Why do Indians suck at football? Just think about it; we are  the second most populated country in the world with the population of over 1.2 Billion -that’s like nearly 15% of the world’s population. We have more than 100 football clubs in the country which include 18 National Football Clubs. And we still can’t find 11 talented players that would bring a little glory to the country? Are we so incompetent that our ranking is languishing in the 140s-170s in FIFA rankings.

Now that’s depressing if you are a sports fan. Whenever you ask a football fan about his lack of interest in Indian football, the most conventional reasons heard are about  the poor state of infrastructure and lack of quality coaching. Everyone points out how Indians are physically ill-equipped for the physicality of the game, and our inability to last 90 minutes.

But, according to me, the major problem that has been plaguing Indian football for a long time is the sheer lack of interest. It’s well known that football is not in our blood – except the few along the coast and the North- east. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough football fans in the country. On the contrary, the support for the game has increased manifold in the last decade. However, most of the fans have been bred so much with the EPL and La Liga saga that everyone ( including myself)  considers I-League an inferior commodity.

Due to lack of interest, football in India is headed the wrong way
Due to lack of interest, football in India is headed the wrong way

And that’s where the problem is. Even the most ardent football fan in India doesn’t care about Indian football. It’s always more about Man Utd vs Arsenal or Barcelona vs Madrid, rather than Dempo vs East Bengal. Then there is the cricket following audience who completely kill football’s chances  of survival. India is a country where India losing in a cricket World Cup causes mass riots, on the other hand India not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup causes… well nothing.

Nothing can improve as long as there is no interest among the Indian population. Because lack of interest leads to lack of sponsorship. This, in turn, leads to poor funding and lack of promotion and marketing of the sport. Without sponsorships there can be no infrastructure and coaching. Currently the national team is devoid of a shirt-sponsor, and that tells a lot about the state of the sport in our country.

So what the future holds for football in India? It is heartening to see that AIFF has taken encouraging steps in the last couple of seasons. It has formulated a program called ‘Lakshya’ through which it is aiming to develop the game at the grass-root level. They have set up academies like the Chandigarh Football Academy, a fully residential establishment which inducts students at the age of seven and takes care of their education and other needs. But still a lot needs to be done to see that World class football academies coupled with a competitive platform at the grassroots level are set up. A professional national league would go a long way in helping us achieve what a country of a billion people deserves to see. A place in the FIFA World Cup. For now, its a distant dream.


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