- Not many sports can boast of being a global phenomenon irrespective of culture or geography like football.
- The impact football has on tourism has been recognised by countries across the world as increased tourism brings an economic boom.
- In India, The sorry state of affairs in football can be attributed to corruption, lack of accountability, and complete lack of vision.
- Filling the Football boards with dynamic people who are passionate about the game, popularising the sport at the grassroots level, and bringing European football clubs to set up their training academies are some of the steps to increase the role of India.
From Lionel Messi’s shocking decision to go to MLS to Killian Mbappe’s saga with PSG, this has been a crazy transfer window in European football. Most curious is the number of transfers to the Saudi Arabian league. Players who still have a few years under their belt in elite football like Sadio Mane from Bayern Munich, and Riyad Maghreb from Manchester City have decided to go to Saudi Arabia. This is strange, but not shocking. Considering that there is no financial restraint on clubs in that league as most clubs directly or indirectly are owned by the state itself. The players are lowered by the insane amount of money as salaries. This actually began with the transfer of Ronaldo last year and this year it has been the transfer of Neymar.
Growing Clout of the Middle East
Many Middle Eastern nations have been in the business of football lately. For example, Manchester United is owned by Emirates and PSG is owned by Qatar. Saudi Arabia has been no exception but a relatively late entrant. This began with the acquisition of Newcastle United, there were even rumours of Saudi Arabia, buying Manchester United. Saudi has been using its brute force of oil money to catch up with its other Middle Eastern countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been slowly building its football infrastructure and recently had to face allegations of indulging in corruption and bribery to secure the rights to host the recently concluded football World Cup.
It is evident that many of the Middle Eastern countries are trying to look beyond oil to generate revenue for the future and diversify it for years. With the increase in green energy and alternative fuels, the world is steadily, although slowly moving away from fossil fuels. The use of Fossil fuels may not come down to absolute zero, but within a couple of decades, it can be protected with some accuracy that it will not be as decisive as today.
Many Middle Eastern countries are trying to look beyond oil to generate revenue for the future. Countries also try to improve their image by relating themselves to the goodwill of sports like football.
There have been some critics calling this sportswashing. It’s a phenomenon in which the country tries to improve its image by relating itself to the goodwill of sports. Notwithstanding the argument of sportswashing, there is no doubt that it has led to some positive changes in these countries. Relatively conservative nations of the Middle East have taken more flexible policies and reforms that are needed for modern times. Qatar was far more tolerant towards the people of different cultures and practices during the World Cup. But these changes, sending some of the left-leaning intellectuals into a frenzy, is another matter altogether. The pertinent question is, why nations are going to such lengths to ride on the football wagon?
Why Are Nations Behind Football?
Football is arguably the most famous sport in the world. With the exception of a few, all countries play the game. There are not many sports that can boast of being a global phenomenon irrespective of culture or geography like football. The sheer fan base of the sport is one of the main factors.
Further, the impact football has on tourism has been recognised by countries across the world. With the increased tourism comes an economic boom in the nation. Economic improvement goes hand-in-hand with job creation, which is not only in terms of service industries but Sports equipment manufacturing and related tertiary industries. Adding to this the soft power and stature in the global political arena. Health benefits and microeconomics are different matters altogether.
Role of India
India has a population of more than the combined population of major football-playing nations. Uttar Pradesh alone has a population that is comparable to Brazil, which is one of the giants in the footballing world. The climate in major parts of India is ideal for playing football all year round. The sport also demands very little maintenance. So what role does India play in the global footballing community today? Unfortunately, India plays a very minuscule role in global football.
The format of ISL was blindly copied from the famous IPL model. The differences in physical and logistic demands between the two sports weren’t taken into consideration.
The sorry, state of affairs can be attributed to corruption, lack of accountability, and complete lack of vision.
ISL, which was projected as a huge step towards the development of football in India has failed to impress. The reasons for this are quite evident. The format of ISL was blindly copied from the famous IPL model. The differences in physical and logistic demands between the two sports weren’t taken into consideration. The milestone event of ISL hasn’t had much impact in terms of the development of talents and techniques in football in the country.
The less said about corruption the better. There is serious corruption in sporting boards. Due to the lack of interest of the public in sports other than cricket, it fails to capture any attention in public forums and media.
Way forward for India
India doesn’t have to take the path of Middle Eastern countries. Sovereign funds, the model of these countries or the nationalised clubs model of China which certainly led to the death of football, even before the beginning are not the ideal models. The sports boards are considered an extension of political games, as a result of which they are completely filled with politicians who have very little interest or knowledge about the game.
The initial step could be filling these boards with dynamic people who are passionate about the game. It must be popularised and played at the grassroots level, that is in schools. This wouldn’t pose any major burden even in rural areas as very little infrastructure is required. These are just small steps that need very little effort and money. Bigger steps could include bringing European football clubs to set up their training academies, to scout and develop talents from a very young age.
However, the question of the will and interest of the people always remains. Can India take advantage and make use of this global phenomenon? Let us hope that India does not miss the bus.
(The author has an M.Sc. in Psychology and serves in NIMHANS. He writes regularly on politics, society, international affairs and technology. Opinions expressed are the author’s own)