India sits back as one huge football audience

The wizards of football have showcased their magic at the FIFA World Cup and captured the attention of everyone in India, even putting in the shade the cricket team’s successful bid to stop Sri Lanka from scoring a hat-trick of title wins in the Asia Cup. And, as we sit through the nights to watch the action and engage ourselves in discussion in board rooms and drawing rooms alike, one question is inescapable: Why is India not even within dreaming distance of the world’s biggest sporting spectacle, except as a huge audience?

With cable and satellite channels bringing home a fairly high quality of sport from Europe for a good nine months each year, the number of youngsters who become fans of European football is only growing by leaps and bounds. Sadly, this is not converting to youngsters taking to playing the sport and we are fast being reduced to a nation of young couch potatoes who are happy to watch the Ronaldos and the Rooneys, the Kakas and the Messis.

The easiest target to attack for such a plight would be the All India Football Federation for the national team’s inability to cross the first set of hurdles in the qualification race for the FIFA World Cup. Of course, few attempts have been made to keep the Indian team in the collective consciousness of the people. Unlike in Europe where club football dominates, in our market, it is the national team that holds the attention of the fans.

We have seen large turnouts when the Indian side plays the Nehru Gold Cup and precious little energy has been spent on getting the team to feature in more matches at home. There would be many benefits, not the least being the fact that the national players would be on television for more time than they are now. A fair consequence of such frequent appearances at home matches would be that the team and the players would have the chance to gain popularity, if not challenge that of players in European leagues.

The other culprits could be the owners of Indian football teams. They have not kept pace with the times in building themselves or their players as brands. In a market driven economy, they remain rooted in ancient methods of running their teams. Even though India has a professional I-League that is broadcast live on television, no attempt has been made to professionalise the way the teams are run and kept in the public consciousness.

Fans have heard of Sunil Chhetri becoming the first Indian to figure in Major League Soccer in the United States. But schoolgirls are getting hooked to EPL and the like. Man-U and Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid feature in their conversations just as much as the names of Ronaldo, Messi, Drogba and Xabi. The young of today have carried their public displays of affection for football to a different level altogether. And India’s football clubs, state associations and the AIFF are doing precious little to face this challenge.

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with and, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.