India is currently ranked 104 in the FIFA football rankings, which is quite low compared to other sports-crazy nations. But they have a rich history as far as football is concerned, stretching more than 50 years back.
It is even said that India qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1950, which was played in Brazil. But the team didn’t travel to participate in the event and there are many accounts stating the reason behind that. Some say that the Indian Sportspersons didn’t consider it an important enough event to travel to the far end of the world. They liked the Olympics more. Another account states that India simply didn’t have the resources to fund the trip.
The more popular theory states that FIFA didn’t allow the barefoot Indian players to participate in the competition. But Indian historians believe that this is merely a figment of someone’s imagination, rather they consider the Olympics a major reason behind India’s hesitation to travel to Brazil. The Indian football team in those days was quite a force to reckon with as well. They finished fourth in the Melbourne Olympics six years later, which is also the all-time best in the history of the sport in the country.
But the current state of affairs in Indian football isn’t so hopeful. India is ranked 104th in the FIFA rankings at present and there are many reasons for such decline, starting from poor governance to lack of competitiveness. However, the recent 11-day suspension by FIFA for not running the game independently in the country has shaken things up in Indian football a bit.
A new football Federation was elected on September 2, completely headed and run by former players instead of politicians.
“Indian football is at a critical juncture. It has been uncertain times for the game in the country,” says Shaji Prabhakaran, the new general secretary of the All India Football Federation, the apex body administering the sport in India.
The AIFF is now headed by Kalyna Chaubey, who used to play as a goalkeeper for Mohun Bagan and East Bengal football clubs. There are other former football players like IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Climax Lawrence, Shabbir Ali and Pinky Bompal Magar in various roles in the AIFF.
The new body faces an enormous challenge of developing Indian football and taking it to higher heights in the future. India recently suffered a crushing group stage exit in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup and that painted the harsh reality of football in the country quite well.
But the new AIFF Officials have already started developing a roadmap to take Indian football ahead. They are set to unveil the plan after the Qatar World Cup, which is set to run from November 20 to December 18.
The roadmap is expected to focus on grassroots-level development, hosting big tournaments, youth development, women’s football, infrastructure and developing world-class coaches and referees.
The duration of the Indian football season needs to increase as well, which currently stands at just six months. A big name like Roberto Carlos played and coached the Delhi Dynamos during the 2015-16 season but he realized soon that he isn’t making any impact to his career or on Indian football by staying in the country.
“Six months of football in a year is not enough to develop the sport in India,” Carlos remarked before he left.
Vijayan, who heads the AIFF technical committee, also agrees with Carlos and has promised to work on increasing the duration of the Indian football season in the future.
India has a football fanbase of about 200 million and it’s sad that the country is lagging so far behind in international football at the moment. But the new football body looking after the sport in India gives hope, and it remains to be seen how far ahead they can take Indian football.