The discussion on football in India was so evasive about real issues at the Tata literature festival last Sunday in the context of the world cup football beginning this Sunday in Qatar.
The whole focus was on commercialisation of the game, not democratisation, it was all about how to exploit the game for money and profits. There is a great enthusiasm for the game in many parts of the country, it was pointed out, but there was little about how to provide facilities to ordinary people.
In one respect, Gaurav Gala, broadcast journalist, came out with the bitter truth,it will take India at least thirty years to even qualify for the World Cup. This was unwittingly severe indictment of the Indian sports establishment.
What struck me in this context is the Indian ruling class’s extreme incompetence that a small nation like Iceland with a population of 3.72 lakhs qualifies for the World Cup football tournament beginning this Sunday while India does not.
Not surprising really considering that even after huge investment in cricket, India lost disgracefully in the recent T 20 world cup.
There is a major slide in football since we won the gold at the Asian football championship in Jakarta in 1962, sixty years ago. The team then had such stalwarts as P.K. Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Balaram, Jarnail Singh and Thangaraj with Rahim as the coach.
The programme was titled Football Fever to launch the book Awaking the Blue Tigers (Indian football) written by Neel Shah, sports professional and Gala, both of whom spoke with an American , British accent.. Joining the discussion was Paul Masefield, a former British football player, and Mukul Choudhari, a senior executive in the Tata sports establishment. The compere was the bub bling Tara Sharma Saluja who called herself a soccer mom who would like her two sons to become football professionals. She has taken them to Singapore to play in international matches. Choudhari spoke about the significant contribution made by the Tatas to football, an academy for women’s football is being launched soon, he said.
It is true that the discussion was mainly about the book but by and large the Indian media and establishment have completely overlooked the problems of rampant corruption in FIFA the controlling authority of the world cup. There is also total silence of the death of thousands of workers, many of them from India, who were involved in the construction of the football stadia in Qatar. As an exception, Ishan Tharoor, son of Shashi Tharoor, has focussed on the topic in the latest issue of Washington Post. Stadiums of Shame, goes the headline in the latest Guardian.
Gala praised the Indian cricket commercial model for promoting talent which was extremely surprising since only last week the Indian performance in world cup was so abject. No one seems to introspect why with crores of rupees paid to the players and thousands of crores earned by BCCI the performance is so disastrous. Thee is no questioning of this disastrous, anti democratic , money and corruption based model. No one talks about match fixing as well when there is mounting evidence about it. I have in front of me a copy of the book No Ball, the murky world of match fixing by Chandramohan Puppala. There is generally a conspiracy of silence on these issues which involve some of the biggest names in Indian cricket.
Paul Masefield was more on the ground when it came to commercialisation of football, he spoke about issues like the problem of injuries and mental health issues arising out of anxiety when the contract of a player is not renewed.
One comment from Tara Sharma should bring some cheer to Mumbai suburbanites since the south Mumbai crowd looks down upon those living beyond Worli.. The suburbs have most of the grounds as against south Mumbai. She is television show host and film actor, she is the daughter of Pratap Sharma, the playwright. Her mother is British. One wonders why Wiki calls her a British actress.
The programme was mainly about how commercialisation will boost the game and how players will earn more. But in reality very few players make much money. The commercial model is totally undemocratic though it looks so tempting.
Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport.