An open Letter to Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports about the State of Football in India

To,

Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal,
Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports,
Government of India.

Subject: Deplorable State of Indian Football

Respected sir,

I am writing to express deep concern and sadness over the present state of Indian Football, and the future of the sport in the country.

From a comparative high of 154, to a continuous downward spiral seeing us sit on the 172nd spot in the FIFA rankings right now, a team and future which promised much has consistently flattered to deceive and seen the name of Indian Football mired through the mud. Once upon a time we were the pioneers of Football in Asia, but that time is long past, and in over half a century since then, we have only reached new lows, instead of scaling great heights.
Despite a population of a billion strong, India fails to have a football team which can compete consistently at the top level. Indeed, this is true of all sports – barring cricket. There are many things contributing to this, and some of them can be fixed more easily than others. The I-League is the national football league of the country, and yet it receives no mileage, while the Indian Super League, backed by sponsors and tycoons has seen good growth because of the money invested in it. This proves that with the appropriate investment of money, the I-League can make tremendous steps ahead too. Indeed, one solution would be to merge both the leagues and have a round-the-year format like most top nations, which will help the all-round development of the sport as well as the players. For now, the ISL is seen as a post-retirement home for international players and nothing more than an exhibition tournament. Though it has propelled the sport into limelight, it isn’t contributing to its overall development. Indeed, having league matches when the national team travels on international duty is a crying shame, one which robs the league clubs of their best players, as well as keeps the audience away from matches of the Indian team. The Indian Captain Sunil Chhetri, and the Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos, both remarked negatively about this, the latter being more than shocked about the same. The qualifying matches of the Indian team were only aired after a lot of petitions were signed for the same, and even then, the away matches got no telecast, and die-hard fans of the sport had to resort to scouring the internet for live commentary.

What Indian football needs is an injection of investment at all levels, from a strong grassroots program which is implemented and followed through to the end – not given up on, like the closing of academies last year without providing appropriate reason. Football schools and academies geared to developing young kids, teaching them about tactics and strategies along with physical development and an eye on diet is essential. Since 2011, India has not had an official home stadium, with every stadium failing to match FIFA’s criteria over one reason or another. It is a crying shame that our nation fails to have a proper stadium with world class facilities, especially when smaller European nations have a host of stadiums across every city.

If we are to match our foreign counterparts, a lot of change is needed in the way the sport is perceived in India, serious monetary investment with a long term goal in mind is necessary, along with the appointment of a proper coach and his own staff, instead of saddling everything on an individual. Consistency is also important, so the manager should be given time, and not sacked if he fails to show immediate results. The rise of Wales as a modern footballing power from its ranking out of the top 100 in the last decade could be taken as a blueprint for success and going forwards.

The road isn’t easy, but without proper, well-thought efforts being put into its development, we will continue to falter instead of proceeding forward. What Indian football needs is a vision, backed by its ministry, helmed by a strong coach, with development programs initiated throughout the country. Only then will we be seeing the rise of the nation as a footballing power in the next decade.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
A true-blue lover of Indian Football.
Back the blue.

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