INDIA needs the Kick

Call it soccer or football, you would be nothing but amazed by the popularity of this simple game.   You can imagine it’s popularity by the sheer number of spectators and members. The pig-skin sport has developed into the biggest one with its showpiece event, World Cup garnering more eyeballs than any flagship single-sport event and competing directly with Olympics with expected viewership for this year’s event being close to 3.5 billions (Compare this with expected count for 33-sports Tokyo Olympics -3.8 billion). We can safely assume that most of human eyes would be glued to this event only during the 32-days period starting from 14th June. These stats may seem overstatement for a country like ours where we do not think of any sports other than cricket . However our supposedly national sport pales in the comparison of football which counts approximately 4% of the Global population as its  active player . Not cricket, not basketball, in fact there’s no sports in the world that can find itself in the same league as football ( Football has more than 500 leagues globally ).


Yet somehow we Indians seem unruffled from the Tsunami of football.  The country boasting of youngest demography in the whole world lags in the richest sport and is ranked a lowly 97 in the world even after an impressive unbeaten run stretching back to June  2016 . The game is reeling from government apathy and maladministration by the political-bureaucratic nexus, similar to other its sibling in the nation. We may rue the fact that cricket, a non-Olympic sport that brings no laurels to nation, gets all the popularity but it is the private tag of BCCI that has prevented it going down the same dark path as  other government-funded and association-managed sports. The neglect of government can be gauged from history. Indian team wasn’t allowed to take part in 1950 WC despite getting a berth (It is a different matter that we got berth due to refusal of other teams in the group). Who knows what might have happened to the sport in country  if the golden generation had taken part? Maybe an impact similar to the unexpected triumph in summers of 1983. One can count the major clubs of country on their fingers and yet none of them has fan base in the entire geographical expanses of Indian peninsula. Despite the fact that this sport requires neither sprawling infrastructure like wooden flooring of basketball or stadium of cricket nor expensive kit, it has failed to gain a foothold.Such a scenario when our country is labelled as A country of spectators rather than that of players.

It is not that we don’t have enthusiasm for sports. Recently concluded U-17 WC had viewership matching that of marquee clashes of EPL, LA LIGA. India, that made their maiden appearance in a FIFA tournament, by virtue of playing hosts, saw their matches register an average of 2.6 million viewership per game. The summit clash between England and Spain, which witnessed full house in Salt Lake Stadium, saw an average of 2.2 million impressions. AIFF, the governing body of the sports in country, has finally gotten up from the deep slumber and taken a leaf from BCCI’s book by emulating highly successful league format popularised by IPL. Christened ISL or the Indian Super League, works on the line similar to IPL with a 3 month window. It has brought desperately required money and sponsors to the sport. The cocktail of celebrities and sport has worked wonders again and one can see fans coming in throngs to the erstwhile empathized stadiums. That ISL has run into choppy waters is not quite unexpected from any initiative by AIFF. The confusion caused by two different premier leagues – ISL and I-league has caused troubles for the country with FIFA threatening to derecognize the country’s governing body as there can be only one premier league in a country according to its constitution .

The success of league in bringing fans to the stadium has not translated  into the games played in National colours. It is quite shameful for a country that its national team’s captain Sunil Chhetri had to literally beg his fans after paltry attendance of 2569 in previous game, to come to the stadium on the occasion of his 100th match.

Even AIFF had to do so. The fact that fans responded to Captain’s clarion call by celebrating his 100th appearance for Blue Tigers with a packed house (only 7000 tickets were available for sale) shows the love for sport in the country. He also didn’t let the viewers down with a brace in 3-0 thrashing of Kenya.

athletes audience ball bleachers
Partisan Packed House: Every Sportperson’s dream. Can’t we fulfill it?

Let this be the watershed moment for the sport in our land. The sport doesn’t need supporting tweets by cricketers to get fans into stadium. The stature of cricket is nothing but a dwarf in comparison with the giant that football is. The prize money for all different Cricket WCs combined is nothing but a drop in the ocean, as compared to the paychecks of Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Neymar Jr. Nor should it require emotional appeals by a man standing 3rd in active goal scorers for a country, a hat-trick short of matching LIONEL MESSI, to have a packed house. It’s time we get ourselves free from the aura of our own created demigods and look into other sports too. Let us mark a change in ourselves by changing from a country of spectators to that of players.

Let June 3, 2018 be the moment that changes the history of this sport in country. See you in the next game of Inter-Continental Cup against NZ today.

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