Can India ever love football as much as cricket?
Can India ever love football as much as cricket, given the huge turnout at the match in Mumbai following Chetri’s appeal?
There has been a lot of interesting developments ever since Sunil Chhetri’s appeal to the Indian public. Interest in Indian football is growing but the basic fallacies in our system still remain undetected. Corruption, lack of investment, outdated tactics are just one part of the story but everything boils down to the very familiar 10,000 hours rule.
Couple of years back, I had come across a book called “The Goldmine Effect” written by Rasmus Ankersen. The book totally changed my idea of sports development and has remained a favourite ever since. Personally I believe it is the “risk averse” nature embedded in the Indian culture which has been holding it back. Russian women excel at tennis not because they are talented. Most of their parents gave up their jobs in Russia and travelled to USA by splurging all their savings into 24 hour training at tennis academies. The Ethiopians excel at marathons not because of their DNA but because they spend their childhood, their formative years doing nothing but running and training a minimum 8 hours. All these leads to the magical 10,000 hours training per person which is the minimum requirement to excel in any given field. World famous musicians/scientists have achieved this 10,000 hour figure. This is also the reason why Brazilians or Jamaicans with their poor facilities excel at football and sprinting respectively. The change will arrive only when instead of taking the children to the humongous number of tuitions, some of the parents line up in front of the football academies and make their children practice for as long as possible instead of a standard 2 hours. That 10,000 figure must be achieved else there will only one Sunil Chhetri every 10 years. But are we willing to risk it all for a career where one injury can finish a player off? I cant imagine that in the current Indian society where we still crave for that “safe, secure life.” Nothing against this notion of security, but then there are trade offs, we cant have everything. Football needs to become the way of life for the people to love it as much as cricket.
Football will be popular in India when the people find a godly figure in Indian football. And where do we get that? India either has to win a major tournament or some player has to connect with the people like many cricketers have done before. Also a footballing Harsha Bhogle would be required to cater to the needs of the intellectuals.
I think there are two major reasons for the lack of Indian football viewership.
- Those who do not watch football and watch only cricket – For this population, cricket is a relatively easier sport to watch, a little slower and easily comprehensible sport. Essentially, it is a family sport that everyone can gather and watch. That has been the legacy of cricket ever since the advent of the television.
Also, football comes across as an inherently Western sport. There is no Indian element to it. It is considered to be a sport for the sophisticated & elite (no data to back this. Based on general assumption). The irony here is that football is historically a poor man’s sport, and cricket was introduced to India by the elite East India Company.
- Those who watch European football – For them (including myself), Indian football is nowhere close to the level that one sees in Germany, Spain, or England. The quality of footwork, the team coordination, the transfer speculation makes watching the sport a fantastic experience. But here is what I discovered: I would rather watch/play live football than watch Messi score a hat trick. I went and saw multiple matches in Mumbai (ISL) and discovered that football in India may not be at the same level, but it is still as exciting as it can be for anyone who loves the game.
I think things can be done to increase football viewership in India:
- Marketing – Plain and simple. The way Sunil’s video went viral, and the subsequent turnout for his next match, speaks volumes about how marketing is key for football’s growth in India. One needs to establish in every Indian’s mind that football is not meant to be played only by Africans, Europeans and Latin Americans. It is the sport of the world and it is as Indian as cricket. It has to be marketed like that.
- Infrastructure – Our footballs stadiums are not enough in terms of numbers, seating, facilities and even appearance. We need to build better and more stadiums, although this would make sense only if the sport gains enough traction in India.
- Hosting international competitions – India needs to hold football competitions like the AFC Asian Cup, and that will bring the required traction. You will see the boost in Russian soccer after this World Cup, as was seen after the Brazilian WC.
Yes, football can become and is becoming as popular as cricket. It just needs the right push in terms of marketing, infrastructure and sponsorship.
It won’t become Hockey.
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