“The Indian football team once again have failed to Qualify for the olympics and once again failed to beat the Qatar side”, headlines of this sort are not new for the Indian football fans.
The glory which Indian team had achieved, securing fourth position in 1956 Olympic Games is faded in the pages of history. As proverb goes “history repeats itself”, in case of Indian football, fans are still awaiting history to be repeated. But with recent shocking turn out of events, it seems that it will remain just an age old adage.
Club football at crossroads
It wasn’t long that club football in India blew with jolt when Mahindra United, one of the country’s top clubs decided to pull out from I-League. Now it was turn of Punjab-based JCT Football Club. This move came after the team’s dismal performance in I-league and was demoted to second division.
But was this the only reason for this unfortunate decision?
In a statement, JCT Limited has mentioned that this ‘strategic decision’ has been made as the stakeholders of the company could not see any possibility to convert its football team into a profitable venture in the near future.
In an interview promoter of JCT football club, Samir Thapar said “for the time being, till football in India shows some possibility of generating value for corporates and their brands, besides bringing up popularity of football among youngsters, JCT Football Club is ending its association with the sport”.
But sources say that Samir Thapar, the supremo of JCT Mills, was unhappy with the way AIFF is heading and working for the development of sport.
On this development India’s football coach Armando Colaco said, “It’s not good for Indian football. JCT has produced great footballers in the past and today you can see they have produced players which have played in all the I-League teams. So it’s really sad”.
India ace footballer Sunil Chettri was also shocked with the decision and said, “JCT has been a seasoned team in the league, they have done well in the past. There is only one team who represent the whole north of India; it’s a very sad moment that JCT was disbanded.
Nandan Piramal, promoter of city-based I-League club Pune FC cited two major reasons for such pathetic state of club football in India. He says “The federation is running I-league very inefficiently and other reason is the second division of league is not a great place to be. You play for one or two months in a year, if you do well you get promoted and if you don’t, you remain. If you have an I-League second division played all year the round, it might be more viable. The JCT owners might have thought paying the players for 12 months to play for two months a year wasn’t a great idea”.
The real problem
But the problem is far more intense and deep rooted. The primary issue is not about the lack of enthusiasm for football among Indians. In fact the interest in the sport has grown exponentially over the years. The fan following for European League and other league runs high. The players from these farfetched places have become heroes in tiny states like Sikkim and Goa.
So where the problem does lies? It is all about money. Money and reward that soccer throws both for players and advertisers in India are not lucrative. The matches of the last edition of I-League were not televised as no broadcaster was interested. The regional rights were sold to Mahua Bangla but undisclosed amount was not much.
There are very few options for revenue generation in front of football administrators. Clearly selling broadcasting doesn’t figure at all in that category. Ironically, not much effort has been made to put a system in place. And whatever earning that flows- in are not at all shared by the clubs.
Infrastructure is also the major concern for the Indian football. In an interview isikkim.com star footballer of India, Baichung Bhutia admitted that not much has happened for the development of the game.
He said “I think the only thing changed from the time when I started playing is that I-league has come and it’s been 11-12 years now. Not much change has taken place in system and structure of Indian Football. Still club football is played majorly only in two states, Goa and West Bengal. It needs to spread in all the states and domestically many competitive clubs should come up. Infrastructure and youth development are the key areas for the future of Indian Soccer.”
In recently held games of second division I-league the conditions of the ground in Shillong were pathetic. Players and authorities did complain about it also, but all went to deaf ears.
Everyone loves to watch competitive football matches in better conditions. For that players needs better turf to play and spectator’s wants better stadium to watch. The only way out here is to develop that needed infrastructure. For that expertise of FIFA and other foreign leagues can be taken, which most of them are ready to give. If major shift in development of infrastructure and structure takes place, it will not only ensure competitive matches but also pull more numbers fans towards stadiums.
Efforts should also be made to secure a national level broadcaster for the league and a part of this broadcasting revenue should be distributed among the clubs for necessary support. In this context, the model of EPL can be followed.
Ray of hope
National team players like Gouramangi Moirangthem, Nirmal Chettri and Mehrajuddin Wadoo recently conducted football awareness camps to promote the sport in their native states – Manipur, Sikkim and Kashmir respectively.
Rather than being pessimistic about the condition of Indian football, these players opted in promoting the sport in their own way. They took up it as their responsibility in promoting the sport among kids.
Moreover, the response received for the camps has been very encouraging and more camps like these could be of great help in the future.
Similar are the initiatives from Baichung Bhutia. He along with the Shankar Mahadevan and Fidelis World, Dubai based company started a club “United Sikkim Football Club”. The vision of the clubn is quite clear. First five years they are going to take to build infrastructure and initiate player’s developmental programmes to build quality players in USFC. If these players do well for the club they will represent the country too.
Also in an interview to Goal.com, Kushal Das, the AIFF general secretary, has assured all the stakeholders involved in the I-League, which includes the fans, to be a little tolerant and await the better things to come in the near future which do look bright.
“The clubs and indeed all the stakeholders need to be positive and patient. As I keep mentioning we are working on strategies for implementing youth and grass root development programmes as well as improving the profile and visibility of the I-League.
“The clubs need to participate with us in our initiatives. Across the world the clubs play a pivotal role in youth development. I think it is critical that the clubs look at the bigger picture”.
If such initiatives can be taken up at a broader level by the administrators, the level of football will surely improve in the country.
With a hope that someday Indian fans will read headline that “The Indian football team once again qualified for the olympics and once again beat the Qatar side”