Global Eye

Indian FIFA President: Will it change anything?

The past few weeks haven’t been good for football. With allegations of corruption against top members of FIFA, the football world has been rattled. Future World Cup hosts, Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, are in danger of losing their right to host the cups.

Amidst the global outrage, FIFA President Sepp Blatter resigned after being recently elected for his 5th term. With Blatter <g data-gr-id="89">resigning</g> there are reports that Sunil Gulati, the current President of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), is among the favourites to take over the job. 

We, Indians, have a habit of thumping our chests with pride whenever some Indian or person of Indian origin accomplishes something big. With speculations of Sunil Gulati taking over FIFA, debates and discussions have already started as to how, Gulati’s selection as the FIFA President might boost Indian and Asian football.

Indian football team, currently ranked 141st in the FIFA world rankings, was once a formidable Asian team, but they never played in a World Cup. 1950 saw India’s only chance to play the World Cup where they were invited but could not take part as they were not used to playing in football shoes and FIFA rules didn’t allow playing barefooted.

They won the gold medal in 1951 and 1962 Asian Games and were semi-finalists in the 1956 Olympic Games, where they lost to Australia by 4-3. But in the past few decades, the standard of Indian football has gone down significantly. Despite having a population of more than one billion, India continues to languish.

Now as speculations of Gulati becoming the FIFA President gain strength, reports and discussions have cropped up that such a development could boost Indian football and give it the <g data-gr-id="90">much needed</g> impetus.

However, it doesn’t look like so. <g data-gr-id="99">Just</g> mere selection of an Indian origin person to the top post in world football won’t achieve much until initiatives and efforts are made by officials. Indian football is plagued by multiple issues, which are interconnected with each other, and hence, need to be solved collectively.

Lack of funding and money
Apart from cricket, all other sports in India suffer from insufficient funding. The enormous difference in the salaries of cricketers and other sportspersons says a lot. Furthermore, the Indian Premier League (IPL) launched few years has further widened the gap between cricket and other sports. But the success of IPL has given rise to events like Kabaddi league, Indian Hockey League, Badminton League, etc. which have received good financial support from investors and have helped increase the <g data-gr-id="113">games</g> popularity. However, most of the funding in cricket is utilised in cricketers’ salaries and glamorising the sport because the cricketing facilities in India are quite good. Whereas, footballers struggle in making ends meet, hardly get lucrative salaries and even training facilities aren’t adequate enough. 

Though football is a much more global game than cricket, the total investment made in Indian football in a year might just equal the combined salaries of top few cricketers in India. To make India a formidable power in football again, there needs to be a manifold rise in investments, which will help to nurture young talent, give them the right training and infrastructure to become world class players.

Though the emergence of the Indian Super League, which was quite successful in its first edition, has brought some interest, we need more resources and money to invest in players and augment the standard of the game, which will also motivate more youngsters to consider football as a full-time career.

Less popularity in India
Though Indians are quite passionate about football, they mostly watch foreign football leagues and competitions such as the Champions League, La Liga, Seria A, English Premier League, etc and have no idea about domestic football. Based on my experience, kids play football seriously in schools, where the invest a lot in training and improving themselves, but by the time, they finish school, the pressure of academics creeps in and football being not so lucrative takes a backseat. Though ISL seeks to change that, but having a strong domestic league is important. The I-League, India’s domestic league, is losing its sheen every year. Important tournaments like Durand Cup and IFA Shield where are more than 100 years old are hardly watched by anyone and are on the verge of being discontinued.

Further, football in India is dominated by clubs from mainly four regions – Kerala, Goa, West Bengal and North East states especially Manipur. But throughout history, Indian football has mainly been dominated by Kolkata clubs such as East Bengal, Mohan Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting, etc but the past decade saw some good clubs cropping up from Goa and Kerala as well. Hence, the popularity of the game needs to rise and go beyond these regions if India has to become more competitive.

Lack of proper Infrastructure
For any sport to succeed, having robust infrastructure and training facilities is a must. As mentioned earlier, if talented youngsters do not have adequate infrastructure and proper training grounds, they are bound to lose interest and eventually abandon football. Most of the stadiums and grounds lie in a pathetic situation. Barring a few stadiums such as Salt Lake in Kolkata, Cooperage in Mumbai and the Bangalore stadium, other stadiums are either lying unused or their condition has deteriorated due to poor maintenance and lack of funds.
AIFF’s Poor management
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has been quite <g data-gr-id="107">lackluster</g> and unprofessional in its work. They have hardly done anything to popularise the sport except organising the domestic leagues and tournaments. If football in India has to reach global standards, then AIFF has to play a significant role. Increasing the popularity, maintaining proper infrastructure, getting investors and showing more seriousness in nurturing young talent are some of the immediate steps AIFF needs to take. Currently, only 12 states have their own football leagues, which should be increased. Further, India’s international exposure is extremely limited and last year, played just four international matches. AIFF should work on getting India to play more matches with higher ranked teams.

The recent World Cup 2018 qualifier match between India and Oman, which India lost by 1-2, was reminiscent of this fact. Though Oman (101 rank) is ranked just 40 places above India (141 rank) in FIFA ranks, Oman played 16 international matches, which helped them to edge past India.

Lack of qualified coaches
Last but not the least, India has a severe lack of good coaches who can nurture talent and build teams. David James, former England footballer, who coached Kerala Blasters in ISL, mentioned in an interview that “India needs qualified coaches, people who understand the vastness, culture and complexities of this country”. Though AIFF and football clubs have hired foreign coaches, but they often have their own style of working and may not understand the grassroots problems in India.
Therefore given the grave nature of football in India, mere selection of Gulati as the FIFA President would not solve issues, even if he takes a keen personal interest in improving the state of affairs. Until AIFF wakes up to the task to revive Indian football, the deplorable conditions will continue.

Tales about <g data-gr-id="146">indian</g> football
In the 1948 London Olympics, India’s first international tournament, a barefooted Indian team lost 2–1 to France in the opening match and failed to convert two penalties. Sarangapani Raman scored the only goal for India, which was first Indian international goal ever in the Olympics.

India won the 1951 Asian Games gold medal in football by defeating Iran 1-0. Currently, Iran, at 40th rank globally, is the highest ranked Asian team, while India is ranked 141st.

In November 2014, Montserrat, a small island nation with a population of just 5,000, was ranked 168th ahead of India (174th) in global FIFA rankings. India’s ranking leapfrogged later when they won their qualifier matches against Nepal.

Sunil Gulati: in the race to replace Sepp Blatter?
Sunil Gulati (born July 30, 1959) is the president of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and was on April 19, 2013, elected to a four-year term on the FIFA Executive Committee. In March 2014, he was unanimously re-elected to a record third four-year term as USSF president; having been elected initially in 2006 and re-elected again in 2010. Gulati is also a senior lecturer in the economics department of Columbia University. He is the former president of Kraft Soccer for the New England Revolution in Major League Soccer.

Elected in March 2006, Gulati is directly involved at the highest level in the development of soccer in the United States. Former USSF president and Major League Soccer founder Alan Rothenberg called Gulati “the single most important person in the development of soccer in this country”. Gulati served as United States Soccer Federation (USSF) vice president for six years and played a key role in major USSF decisions for many years prior to his election as president.

In February 2010, he was re-elected for another four-year term as USSF president. In February 2009, Gulati announced that the USSF will bid for the right to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. He chaired the World Cup USA Bid Committee Board of Directors and visited 20 of the 22 member voters on the FIFA Executive Committee. The United States, however, was not selected to host either World Cup. In <g data-gr-id="205">2011</g> he was recognised and awarded the 2011 Trailblazer Award from the Association of South Asians in Media, Marketing and Entertainment (SAMMA) for his outstanding contributions to the world of U S sports.

In 2012, Sunil Gulati spearheaded the formation of a new professional women’s soccer league in the United States. The previous two attempts to form a women’s league by the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer folded in three years. On October 21, 2012, the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican Football Federation made a joint announcement on the creation of a new women’s soccer league with clubs playing in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, western New York, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., Gulati advocated a “sustainable economic model”, with the new league having a unique feature of the three federations paying the salaries of their national team players who play in this league.
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