Slovenia. A tiny mountain-laden nation nestled in between Austria and Croatia spreading over 20,000 sq km with a population of 2 million. Now here’s why these statistics are important. Their FIFA World Rank is 25 and they are participants in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation, have 1.2 million citizens living on an island that’s 5000 sq km in size. They lie 95th in the FIFA World Rankings and had participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Now in contrast to these two nations, we have our very own India. India has a land mass of approximately 3 million sq km with nearly 1.2 billion inhabitants. That is roughly 20% of the number of people there are on Earth! It is also 500 times greater than the head count of Slovenia and 1000 times more than that of Trinidad and Tobago. Our FIFA ranking is 133 and we are have never and are nowhere near to participating in a FIFA World Cup. The math just doesn’t seem right, does it? How can these tiny nations make it to the World Cup, while we have to always enjoy the tournament as neutrals? Is it our poor economy? Is it our love for cricket? Or is it just Us?
We keep using cricket as an excuse for our mediocrity in almost every other sport. “Cricket is stifling the nation’s love for football”, we say. But, is that REALLY true? Are we really going to use cricket as the scapegoat forever?
Are we really going to use cricket as the scapegoat forever?
The truth of the matter is we do love football. We all enter a football “stupor” come May. We all know the chants and anthems of the clubs we support. We stay up till 2 A.M. to watch UEFA Champions League matches. Now, we are doing the same for the World Cup. For football fans in the country, time has now come still and everything seems insignificant in front of the World Cup.
So where have we gone wrong? We love our football. Maybe not as much as the Europeans or the South Americans, but football still has a special place in our hearts. So, again, I ask you. Just WHERE did we go wrong? Here’s where:
Its football we love. Not INDIAN football. And therein lays the real problem. We keep saying that Indian Football has let us down, when in truth, it’s the exact opposite.
Don’t believe me? Alright then, here’s a social, do-it-yourself experiment you can all try.
Step 1. Go to the screening of a World Cup match.
Step 2. Choose any ten people at random.
Step 3. Ask any five out of the ten, whether they know who won the EPL, La Liga, Serie A etc. Chances are, they’ll know the correct answer. Then ask them whether they know who won the I-League (It’s Dempo, for all the people rushing to Google to find out for themselves).
Step 4. Ask the other 5 whether they can name you the playing eleven of England, Brazil, France etc. They will not disappoint. Then make the same inquiry about India (Opening Google again are we?). This time, they will disappoint.
You will find the result of this experiment to be rather shocking. And you will finally realise why India is ranked behind countries like Faroe Islands, who incidentally have fewer people than we have registered players! You will, then, make peace with the fact that it is our own fault that India lack so far behind in football.
It is the fans that make a sport what it is. Do you honestly think that cricket continues to scale new heights in India because of the BCCI? NO! If anything, the BCCI’s ‘money-over-results’ policy may destroy cricket for Indians. But I’m meandering off topic. Cricket is where it is because we put it there. And we can do the same for football too. We have the power! Don’t believe me again? That’s fine by me. I’ll give you an example proving the influence that fans have in sports. Remember the 80 million pounds that Real Madrid spent on Ronaldo? They claim to have recovered most of it. How? By having sold close to a million shirts with his name on the back. I rest my case.
It has been Eighty years since Uruguay hosted the first World Cup. Eighty years and we have not qualified for a single one. Check that - we did qualify in 1950. Before you feel too proud, I must mention that the other three teams from our groups withdrew making us automatic qualifiers for the tournament, from which, we were later denied participation because our players refused to wear shoes while playing. Feel free to break a vase or a window. I know I did. But in our defence, we’ve chosen to not enter the World Cup nine times and only began entering the qualifiers from 1986. We’ve failed each time.
So, now that we’ve established that it’s up to us to give India the footballing status we dream of, let’s make a pledge to treat Indian football with the same fervour as we do for English or Spanish football. For the next I-League season, pick a team, any team, and just start supporting it. I won’t deny that the quality of football will be considerably lower than that of the European Leagues and at times you’ll wonder why you’re even watching it. At times like these, just remember; it’s your OWN league and you do not need any reason to follow it.
Be there for them next January!
As for our national side, they have qualified for next year’s AFC Asian Cup. This is our first qualification since 1984 and it is a big deal. Keep that in mind when you turn on your T.V. sets to root for India next January.
It is time for us to save Indian football from the clutches of oblivion. It’s time for us to stand up and take notice.