Football: India’s New Beautiful Game




Football: India’s new beautiful game

Football: India’s new beautiful game

Many observers have asked a fundamental question for decades. Are there a scope and a future for any sport besides cricket to prosper in India? For years, we have asked ourselves this question. The euphoria that cricket generates in this country, is it possible to replicate that for any other sport in this country?

Recent trends suggest that we may just be on to something. Football has emerged as something of an alternative in this country. Among the youngsters of today, football has become a fascination. We are smitten by the sport, seeing world – class players from popular European leagues dominating our television sets and finding a way into our conversations. Football is a “cool” sport for the urban youth, a tag that cricket no longer enjoys.

Yes, we celebrate India’s cricketing achievements, but it’s not the game that’s dominating our minds. Football is the new game for the teenagers.

I had attended the football trials at the St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University a few days back. I was heartened to see such a large turnout for mere 2-3 seats. Nearly 150 of my peers had come to showcase their skills and impress the coaches out there. I was also impressed by the quality of the game that went about that morning and the excitement was infectious.

That made me wonder, why do these teenagers see football only as a hobby and as a way to get into the college and course of their choice? Why don’t they see it as a viable career option? It’s not like the glamour and the money is not there in Indian football .Just look at the way Bhaichung Bhutia has made the game famous all over the country and now even runs a football club in his native state of Sikkim to promote the game.

The answer probably lies in the amateurish way football is run in this country.

There are no significant Talent Development programs run by the apex body of football in our country, The All India Football Federation (AIFF). There is an urgent need to tap the young talent in the cities as well as the hinterlands and the marketing prospects that football now holds among the youth.

Over the last 3 years, the national team won the AFC Challenge Cup and thus gained passage to the Asia Cup, where it competed with Asian heavyweights like South Korea and Japan. In my view, they did not perform badly, with our custodian, Subrata Paul, coming in for special praise over newspaper columns worldwide. The euphoria over the participation in Asia’s premier competition generated tremendous excitement among the football faithfuls in this country and this needs to be further cultivated by hosting friendly matches with other Asian teams in India as well as abroad.

Goa and Bengal have been seen as traditional nurseries of Indian football but now alternate centres like Delhi are also coming up. The emergence of Sunil Chhetri has ignited a footballing culture in the National Capital Region, while Mehrajuddin Wadoo breaking into the national team has made the game popular in strife – torn Kashmir. It has been heartening to see coaches going off to far-flung areas and teaching little kids this Beautiful Game, thus providing them with a platform to escape difficulties and to pursue their passion. The Dream is on.

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