As a wonderful land full of paradoxes, one that the curious world visits often in a bit to understand its diversity, India does pose myriad challenges to those within and outside but nothing can be quite intriguing as its intense love affair with FIFA World Cup. For four weeks every four years, you get to see India divided by loyalties – not based on religion or caste, political party or social standing but by its support to the world’s best football national teams.
Barring an element that is based on aspirations, there is no apparent logic for Indians to be backing teams from Brazil or Spain, Argentina or Germany or from any of the 28 other nations from across the world. Yet, we offer these teams playing the Beautiful Game unconditional support from this distance, spending long hours each evening before our TV sets and planning our lives around the matches of our respective favourites.
You don’t have to make much effort to look around in the coming weeks and find a growing, if not dominant presence, of football in our daily lives. Marketing wizards have already drawn up exhaustive plans to unleash football mania on us. Newspapers and new TV channels have signed up celebrities and analysts to interpret world class action for us in language that we understand.
Indeed, it is a phenomenon that is not very easy to explain. Why would India, which does not seem to be even within sniffing distance of competing at the FIFA World Cup devote so many man hours in backing squads that have no idea of how many pair of lips in India have prayers for each of them. For many years since 1986, I tried to understand the passion but over the last couple of FIFA World Cup finals, I have focussed on enjoying the process of observing it unfold each time.
It brings me in touch with a young India that grown up admiring high quality practitioners of sport and sports itself that is beamed into its drawing rooms. It brings me in touch with an India that thrives on the pure sporting entertainment offered in the FIFA World Cup finals. This time around, I can sense a number of girls will join the frenzy, even if the older women reconcile themselves to having to make their own plans outside of football. It also tells me, less enjoyably, I must add, about an India that is increasingly content to watch such spectacles and makes little effort to actually play sport.
I have also become aware of how India Inc increases its ad spends on the telecast of each edition of the FIFA World Cup finals. There is at least one market study which says that the official broadcaster in India, ESPN Star Sports, is expecting at least Rs 150 crore from ad revenue alone for this year’s World Cup finals. Besides, there will dozens of crores of rupees that Indian advertisers will spend in an effort to ride piggy back on the football frenzy that we are about to witness in the coming weeks.
Yes, the FIFA World Cup 2010 is nearly upon us. Be warned! And be ready for a blast. Of the sporting kind, that is. A blast that will hard to explain but great to cherish.