The Football World Cup final played between France and Croatia was a thrilling one. The high-octane performance by the French national team gave them the chance to lift the prestigious World Cup for the second time. Croatia lost in the finals but it surprised every viewer with their performance right till the very end. A country formed in the 1990s with a population which is lesser than most of the states in India made it to the finals of the World Cup of the most watched and played game on the earth. All Indians should take a moment to ponder over the above lines, and think about why is it that we are still a failure at football? The answers lie in grey areas, but there is absolutely no doubt that the flaws come from lack of planning and design. It’s not that we are physically not fit. There are countless boxers and wrestlers from the country. Another cited reason, fast pace of the game, does not hold much water again. Hockey too is played at that fast pace and we are constantly in the top four or five teams of the world. The problem lies elsewhere and it may have begun right after India denied the chance to play in the 1950 World Cup.
The chance to participate in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil was served to India on a platter. India had performed excellently in football at the 1948 Summer Olympics and this led to the FIFA reaching out to India to participate in the World Cup. They had just one demand and it was conveyed to India immediately after the 1948 Olympics, they would not be allowed to play barefoot. Some Indian players in the 1948 Olympics had indeed played barefoot but FIFA had given All India Football Federation the message that boots were a necessity for participating in the FIFA world cup. The AIFF had enough time to train Indian players in playing with their boots on, but they chose not to do so. The Jawaharlal Nehru led central government at that time too did not think it was necessary to push AIFF, no adaptation by the players was made and the AIFF chose to not send a team to the World cup.
It is true that the World Cup of 1950 was not the grand affair it is today but it was nonetheless an international event. India could have benefitted significantly from participating in it and we definitely would have been on the map of World Cup playing countries today. Indian football players of the yesteryears would have become household names and the sport in India might have been very popular, if not more popular than cricket today. Some people have also claimed that the newly independent country would have faced difficulties in sending a contingent to Brazil. It is utterly baseless as the organisers of the World Cup had themselves offered to pay for majority of the expenses for the Indian team. Indian team just had to go, the AIFF and the government needed to give them a go ahead. But what they chose to do instead was make excuses and sit back while the world played.
At present we are ranked 97th in FIFA rankings, we would have definitely been higher up the order if Nehru or the AIFF had the foresight needed to understand the importance of a World Cup invite. Our Indian Football team captain, Sunil Chhetri, definitely wouldn’t have felt the need to plead for Indian fans to come and watch the Indian team play had we been on the football map. Much like the policies of Nehru and Congress in relation to India, they managed to mess up the chance to make India proud in the sports arena. It is time we weed out their failed policies and implement new ones in its place instead, for the game as well as the country. Football in India should grow hand in hand with the development of our nation. It is high time indeed that we changed both.