Having fallen another place to 156 in the FIFA rankings, it can’t be said that the status of football is too bright in India right now. Indeed, the only good thing to have happened to the sport in the last week is that Aditi Chauhan – the goalkeeper of the Indian women’s football team – has signed for West Ham United in the English Premier League.
Once upon a time – and this was a long time ago indeed – India was an Asian powerhouse when it came to football, but no more. Overshadowed by the emergence of cricket in the 80’s post the World Cup victory, football became a mere sideshow to the spectacle that was the gentleman’s game. Now, memories of past glory are mere wisps in the sands of time.
With the emergence of the ISL in the last year the sport has again started getting due attention, but not all of it has been helpful. A lot of the I-league clubs are pulling out of the league since all of them are running a loss, and maintaining the influx of money with negligible return on investment and losses is only harming the clubs. Corporate teams have gotten an open pass into the I-League, but for most corporates it is only a recreational activity and not a field they plan to pursue, so having these teams in the highest tiers – especially with the option of no relegation for the first 3 years – not only doesn’t make sense, but is also harsh on once prestigious clubs like Dempo (which was relegated this year despite finishing above Bharat FC) which have fallen on tedious times now.
Once renowned and prestigious tournaments such as the DCM trophy, Rovers Cup, Stafford Cup, Sheith Nagjee Trophy, Kalinga Cup, Darjeeling Gold Cup, Sikkim Gold Cup, Durand Cup, IFA Shield, Bordoloi Trophy have now lost much of their sheen, and a lot of them have even been discontinued. If things continue in similar vein then the ISL may be the only major tournament the country has – and it is looked at as a celebration of football for 2 months than as a serious football tournament.
One of the way forwards would be to merge the ISL and the I-league, since a format such as the ISL which lasts only for a couple of months will not be taken seriously by the world, nor have a long term positive impact on the game. We could do well by following the lead of the United States and revamping the I-league and taking it to the standards of the MLS. Reaching the golden standards of the European leagues is far away for now. Small steps have to be taken and sustained so that the ISL or any similar growth isn’t seen as a one-time spike in an otherwise plateauing health of the beautiful game.
Currently, Indian football has a lot of catching up to do to its European, American, and even some of its Asian counterparts. The road to success is a long one – One we need to run as a sustained marathon, and not as a fast but short sprint, which will only lead to an eventual collapse.
Image Courtesy : SportsKeeda