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Indian Football Seeking Revival
Government refuses to pay for national team's trip to Doha
Armstrong Vaz (armie)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-27 17:21 (KST)   
India has been looking for a turn around in its football fortunes and to revive the popularity of the sport in the country. What better platform than the 15th Doha Asian games competition?

With a new breed of under-23 footballers,Englishman Bob Houghton is setting his sights on the future, and the Doha competition is part of a greater youth development plan. Houghton has been around for the last 30 years as a player and coach. He kick-started his long-term goals for Indian football on June 20 this year.

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Just fathom this: India has slid in FIFA world football rankings from 99th in November 1993 down to 148th this November. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has changed nine coaches with virtually no results in the last 18 years.

For the last 18 years Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the present Union Information and Broadcasting Minister in the central Indian government, has also been president of the (AIFF).

India, an emerging economic power, once called the football shots in Asia and was once a powerhouse in football that the other Asian countries were wary off. That was way back in 1970, when India won its last medal: a bronze at the Asian games. This is not to mention that India was an Asian Games gold medalist in the inaugural year in 1951 at New Delhi and again in 1962 at Jakarta.

And who can forget the biggest highlight of country's football history, when it qualified for the FIFA world cup in 1950 but pulled-out after they were refused permission to play barefooted. Another milestone of Indian football was the 1956 Olympics, where they lost to Bulgaria in the third place playoff match. That was the same Olympics where Neville De Souza scored the one and only hat trick by an Indian in Olympics football.

Thirty-six years after India won the Asian games bronze medal, the game is getting step-motherly treatment from its government -- a government which has refused to fund the football team's trip to Doha, Qatar for the Asian games.

With the Indian government's refusal to fund teams with no hopes of getting medals, which includes football, the trip to Doha was in doubt.

But AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco brushed aside the fears of India not making it to Doha. "We are making the trip to Doha through our own (federation) expenses. It would be good exposure for the under-23 boys, and we are confident that the boys would do well."

The standard and popularity of the game has nose-dived in a cricket crazy country. Cricket's popularity reached new heights since India won World Cup Cricket in 1984. That was the turning point for a religious-like fan following in the country for cricket.

Indian football display in recent years has been pathetic. The country has been gradually sliding in the Fifa rankings with every passing year, and India had the ignominy of losing all their Asian Cup qualifiers that concluded recently.

AIFF was only founded in 1937, while football was introduced to Indians by the colonial rulers- English. The country has an interesting club history, with Mohan Bagan AC and Mohmmedan Sporting club, both from the northeastern state of West Bengal, tracing their formation to 1888 and 1889 respectively. Football enjoys a passionate following in West Bengal, Kerala, and Goa. In Goa, football was introduced by the colonial Portuguese rulers.

The Durand Cup held in Delhi, started way back in 1888 and holds the distinction of being the second oldest tournament in the world, after England's FA Cup.

That apart, AIFF tired to ring in changes in Indian football with the introduction of the semi-professional national football league. But the popularity of football failed to take off, with the majority of the clubs coming from West Bengal and Goa.

A big part of the difficulty is that none of the clubs have their own stadiums and have to rely on government grounds that have been leased to them.

Now the talk is the introduction of a professional league from next season.

In spite of the disappointing performances, AIFF has been able to sign a 10-year, Rs.2.73 billion (US$66 million) television deal with Zee Sports last season. Furthermore, AIFF signed a seven-year deal with Nike to supply the national team with apparel, footwear, and equipment.

ONGC, the title sponsors of the National Football League, give AIFF Rs.75 million per year ($1.67 million).

The crowning achievement during the last 18 years has been the construction of the AIFF house at an appropriate cost of $1 million.

Bob Houghton wants to make India a competitive force for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Certainly the Doha Asian Games is a perfect setting for the Indians to begin their journey back to the Asian reckoning and make other Asian football powers take note.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Armstrong Vaz

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