India, a land of 125 crore people has different castes, creed and culture, but when it comes to sports, Indians forget everything and get all united to cheer for the tri colour and will scream their lungs out to show support for the sport. Wait, but this happens only for cricket, right? Yes, the sad reality is cricket is treated like a religion in our country and all the other sports take a backseat and everyone becomes some sort of an expert, while talking about cricket and other sports suffer because of it.
The Under-17 FIFA World Cup 2017 will be played in India from 6th October to 28th and India by virtue of being hosts have got a direct entry into the event and all eyes will be on India, how they will perform in this marquee event. Not many people apart from football enthusiasts must be knowing this and 90 per cent of people might be clueless about this event even though it is happening in India. And, you cannot blame them because our system and All India Football Federation (AIFF) has done very little to create awareness about this event and, as a result, the beautiful game doesn’t feature in our day to day discussions and we are totally ignorant about football culture in our country.
Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia (now retired), Jeje Lalpekhlua are some of the names that football lovers are aware of, but after that even the die-hard fans must be having hard time to continue the discussion. Our team has made huge strides in recent past on international stage but our ranking is still dismal 107 and it doesn’t matter and we are quite satisfied with it. This culture reflects how seriously we take football in this country and it comes as a no surprise that we are making our debut in U-17 World Cup because we lack basic infrastructure and there is no accountability in our system.
Indian Super League (ISL) has come as breath of fresh air, but we are still a long way from competing at the highest level and our league can’t be compared with English Premiere League and Spanish La Liga for obvious reasons. The influx of money is a good thing for football, but our archaic and dysfunctional system has seen a neglect over the years and it will take more than couple of ISL seasons to get our game back on track.
The current World Cup can unify the game and if India performs well then it could create a legacy and more youngsters apart from north east belt and other parts of country will dream to become another Chhetri or Lalpekhlua and for that to happen we have to let our kids grow and tell them it’s okay to play another sport apart from cricket. The jury is still out on whether this World Cup will make any difference or the things will remain the same.