Yesterday, the Indian Women’s U-19 Football Team mauled their Pakistani counterparts with a thumping 18-0 victory. Riding on the back of striker Renu’s five-goal whammy and Manisha’s hattrick, India had the perfect, if not the dream starts to their AFC U-19 Qualifiers.
Resounding a victory as this is, it played second fiddle on social media and news portals to Virat Kohli’s knock of 150 in Team India’s game against West Indies.
India is the home of cricket. There is no one who will dispute that. We are the number 1 Test Team in the world and our team line-up boasts of sporting legends, some of whom have gone on to grab the status of Gods. Two World Cup wins, and decades of spectacular play have had cricket garner a huge following in India, and its players now don the cover the lifestyle magazines and dine out with movie stars.
This is great – for cricket, but no so much for the other sports lying under the giant shadow that cricket casts. The overwhelming popularity of cricket means that it mints the most money of all the sports and it is no surprise they are taking all the limelight.
Then again, there’s North East and Kerala championing football over cricket. One need only take the few football stars who have gone on to be the flag-bearers for our national football team to fully grasp this – they are primarily from the North East.
Ask any youngster today if they follow football and they will tell you that they do. Usually, these are teams from the English Premier League – often the case, it’s either Manchester United or Liverpool. Sometimes, you get the names of teams from other foreign leagues which don’t even have a good following in their own country.
All of this points to one absolute certainty – that football is big, even in India. But none of the youngsters will be able to tell you what the league in India is called, and what teams play in it. Lack of interest then is not the problem. It is the lack of facilities to promote sports and the lack of a cohesive administrative function that actively seeks to champion the games.
Infrastructure developments like the one being built in Gujarat now, India’s biggest sports complex able to seat about 1 lakh people, will certainly aid the effort, but it alone would not suffice. For real change to happen, we must look at improving the facilities that we provide starting at a grassroots level and working our way up.
The current government had been taking many steps to weed out the challenges that get in the way of India and its dream to become a footballing super-power and it has reflected in the rankings. India is now 97th in the FIFA standings.
The concept of sports schools have also been a topic of discussion at the Ministry of Sports and steps are now being taken now to implement it, and also to incorporate a higher degree of sports in school, giving it the same importance as one would to Math or Science. This is certainly going to change people’s perspective – considering football as a career as one would with science, and not a passing leisure activity.
Cricket then need not die for other sports to flourish.
(Photo by Mathias Herheim)