Football like many other good things was introduced in India by the British. India was once a great footballing nation. During the peak of their game in 1968, the Elo Ranking system had India ranked at the 48th spot. Many Indians might not know this but they even qualified for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Although, they never played in the tournament; the reasons for which still leaves everyone flabbergast.
The Indian team considered themselves heavily underprepared thinking that they had not got enough practice time.
The Indian players were not ready to go on long sea voyage, something they have never done ever before.
You might find this reason fake but the Indian team refused to play with boots as they were not used to it.
They always played bare-footed and were not comfortable in playing with boots. Even today this joke has been one of the favourites amongst the football historians.
However, Indian footballing skill was undeniable as they reached the pre-finals in the 1958 Melbourne Summer Olympics, secured the 1962 Asian Games and as one of their finest moments secured the second position in the 1964 AFC Asian Cup. Thereafter everything went downhill. 1960 was the last time when India was able to qualify for the Olympics. In the 1970 Asian Games India picked up a bronze.
But recently Football in India has been shoved so hard into a corner that even the arrival of Sepp Blatter as the President of Fifa failed to arouse sponsors in any way. India is ranked 133 among the 202 football playing countries. This poor ranking can be set into perspective considering the fact that countries like Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Fiji, Benin, Swaziland and Haiti are better placed than us in this list.
India can find solace in some backbencher consolation that it is doing better as compared to its neighbouring countries. Like Pakistan (165) Bangladesh (157), Nepal (161), Bhutan (196) and Sri Lanka (159).
So, the question which arises is: Why does a country with a red hot economy and of a billion people such a laggard in Football?
The major reason behind the failure of India in football is the total domination of Cricket in India. India is a cricket loving nation. The love for cricket is almost similar to the Brazilian’s love for football. On retrospection it would appear that India has never been serious about football the way it has been about cricket Everywhere may it be TV advertisements, reality shows, telecast issues etc. cricket always gets the preferred over football. The only recognized league in India before the ISL came into picture was the I-league which itself had no such great fame. Lack of major football leagues is affecting the people’s interest in the game as they find it hard to associate themselves with football.
Lack of infrastructure is another reason behind India’s failure in Football. It is resulting in slow and poor youth development which acts as grassroots for any game to develop. This has been holding the Indian football back for more than four decades. AIFF had taken several steps to put an end to this by starting many regional academies and training schools but the slow implementation and the politics involved is acting as a hindrance in infrastructure development. The I-League clubs should also take their share of the blame for this too. Most of them because of not having proper youth teams assemble the youth teams just a few weeks before the tournament rather than running them perennially. Age fraud is also rampant in India overshadowing the proper growth and nurturing of youth.
Football, like majority of other things in India, is run by politicians. Having been formed in 1937, The All India Football Federation which is the governing body of football in India took more than 10 years to get affiliated with FIFA. Cronyism, politicisation, Lack of professionalism and indifference are not letting the beautiful game to thrive. Because of the appalling quality of the game the sponsors have also been indifferent towards football.
Since this day, India, sadly, remains an enthusiastic spectator without a team of their own at the World Cup. In his book Lectures from Colombo to Almora, Swami Vivekanada said “You will be nearer to heaven through Football than through the study of the Gita”, for which he was very much criticized at the people of India took it literally and considered it a disrespect for the Holy Gita. But the now when we know what he really meant keeping in mind the present state of Football in our country it’s almost time to take it literally and start working on it.