NEW DELHI: Call it the mother of all ironies. A country which is numero uno in cricket, badminton, and a world power in wrestling is a low 106th in FIFA list of world rankings, Who is the responsible for the pathetic state of Indian football?
The inability of India to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar has once again brought the All India Football Federation (AIFF) under the scanner. Small countries like Costa Rica and Ghana are among the 32 countries taking part in the competition while India is not even a participant.
Ever since the inception of the FIFA World Cup in 1930, India has had a poor record. The country has won the cricket and hockey World Cups, gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships in badminton, but not once has it qualified for the football World Cup.
This is all the more surprising when one takes into account that India has won the Asian Games gold medal twice in the late 50s and early 60s. Even countries like Iran, whom India has beaten several times in the past, have qualified for Qatar but India is sitting out.
There is a widespread perception that the main reason why Indian football is on the decline is the mismanagement and wrong policies of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
First and foremost, the AIFF does not have a proper roadmap to tap and develop football at the grassroots level. “For any country to be a world leader in sports, one needs to identify and tap talent at the grassroots level. Sadly, the AIFF does not have a plan in place for the youth development and this acts as a big impediment for the development of the game in the country,” said T Venkatesh, a former Kerala player.
The AIFF’s inability to attract major sponsors is another major factor why football has not taken off in the country. “When any federation’s coffers are full, it can embark on a lot of activities to promote the game, both on and off the field. Unfortunately in the AIFF’s case, they could not rope in any major sponsor which leaves them heavily dependent on Government funds,” said R Soumyajit, who has been following the Indian football for more than two decades.
Moreover, the constant infighting and chaos within the AIFF resulted in the Indian soccer body being temporarily suspended by the FIFA on August 17; which also impacted India’s game to an extent. After it failed to heed many warnings, the bureau of FIFA Council suspended the AIFF citing “third-party intervention” in the latter’s affairs as the reason for its action. By ‘third party’, the FIFA was referring to the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA), which was running the affairs of the AIFF. The SC passed a direction to terminate the mandate of the COA, four days after the FIFA suspension, and the FIFA lifted its suspension on August 26.
Things, however, are still far from being hunky-dory. The AIFF must set its house in order otherwise India will continue to languish in the football world. “It should rope in some good international coaches and technical experts who have proven worth. Only then can we hope to see the resurgence of the Indian football,” said a former player, who preferred anonymity.