The past few weeks have seen India gripped, literally, with football fever. There are pubs offering free drinks for every goal scored, restaurant menus have gone for a wardrobe overhaul and then there are numerous discussions during tea-breaks and over smokes. It was interesting to observe that the Cricket-crazy nation that India is, could just wink at the Asia Cup that was going on in Sri Lanka.
The sad part is that the fever grips India every 4 years during a World Cup. The days followed by the World Cup are filled with optimism about Indian football and the prospects that it holds. There are player profiles that come up in the media, terming them as the ‘hope of Indian football’. The Indian Olympic Association, Sports Ministry and the All India Football Federation, all vie for media space and try to gain brownie points by announcing ‘schemes’ and ‘plans’ for the future of football in India. They call upon corporates to take more interest in Indian football and the corporates, as they have come to know over the years, stay put owing to the bureaucracy and politics that they will have to counter to support Indian footballers. Baichung Bhutia is called to several news channel studios to give his take on the announcements and the nation can see on national television that the intent was not there and will not be there.
The Indians then go back to English Premier League and European football to satiate their thirst for good football action. I don’t intend to mention to even a minuscule extent that the Indian football fans don’t support Indian football. The problem is that the grounds that the Indians play on are in pathetic condition and there are no facilities to attract fans to the stadiums. Cricket stadiums are not world-class, but they attract crowds because of the buzz and excitement created around cricket matches.
We have had Baichung Bhutia as the face of Indian football for long. He hails from a remote village in Sikkim. His is a true story of resilience and determination. There is Sunil Chhetri who is scorching the fields in the US playing for Kansas City Wizards. India has the talent, not the means. It would be great to see Indian football rise from it’s current rank of 133. The highest that Indian football team has ever ranked was 94 in February 1996. A prayer and a lot of passion.