FIFA World Cup Trivia: When India qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but did not play!

The craze for football is on with the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018 which is going to start from June 14 in Russia. Although India is not going to be a part of the tournament, there is still a lot of buzz about the FIFA World Cup among Indians. Football usually remains under shadow in our country due to the hyped popularity of cricket. However, the introduction of Indian Soccer League and scheduling of FIFA under 19 World Cup in India have helped to increase the fan base of the sport in our country.

India has no connection with the FIFA World Cup 2018 tournament, but do you know that India had a connection with FIFA World Cup tournament in the past? Yes, India did qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 1950 but withdrew from the tournament in the end.

In the year 1950, India qualified for the FIFA World Cup which was scheduled to take place in Brazil. One of the major reasons for selection of India was that all their opponents during qualifying stage withdrew from the tournament. India also withdrew from the World Cup before the start of the tournament. India was placed in the pool III with Sweden, Italy and Paraguay. India was scheduled to start their campaign in the 1950 World Cup on June 25 against Paraguay and their league fixtures would have finished by July 3.

Many teams also withdrew their names from the 1950 World Cup like Scotland, France and Czechoslovakia and it was reduced to just 13 teams. No other team from Asia except India was part of the tournament. So Brazil was keen to have India in the tournament and they contacted All India Football Federation (AIFF) and asked them to participate. They also promised to look after the expenses of the Indian team. India’s participation remained in confused state till the start of the tournament.  When India did not turn up, Pool III became a three team group with the winners Sweden qualifying for the next round.

There is no clear reason as to why India did not participate in the 1950 World Cup. AIFF gave various reasons for the team’s withdrawal like travel costs, lack of practice time and giving importance to Olympics more than the World Cup, inadequate foreign exchange reserves, the long journey by ship. Despite these various reasons given by the AIFF, many historians believe that India withdrew from the FIFA World Cup 1950 due to FIFA imposing a rule banning players from playing barefoot.

But this reason was rejected by the then football captain of India, Sailen Manna, who said that the story not being allowed to play barefoot was not true and was just an excuse to cover up the real reasons the AIFF decided not to travel to Brazil. Since then, India has not come close to qualifying for another World Cup.

If India had decided to participate in the World Cup 1950 tournament, it would have been a major boost to the game in the newly independent country. Today, the game has less popularity among Indian people and is hidden behind other games like cricket, hockey and badminton. Still, the quest for qualifying for World Cup is on and India is eagerly waiting for their debut performance in the World Cup.

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