Down in the Doldrums – Indian Football and Nowhere to Go

When we usually talk about employment issues, we’re normally referring to the financial markets, the banking sector and so on and so forth.  So it might surprise a few that footballers too are finding jobs hard to come by.  Unless you’re a football player in India, of course.  Ours might be one of the few countries where you could be a star in your own right, but still not earn enough (read-Climax Lawrence and his career path).

With the I-League season on hold, most Indian talent is sitting warming their backsides thanks to the All India Football Federation’s confusing decision to discontinue the Federation Cup, India’s league-cum-knockout tournament compromising 16 of the country’s top football teams.  There seems to be no plausible reason for scrapping the age old tradition other than the fact that it wasn’t really a crowd puller, but that’s a problem of promoting the game which the AIFF has failed miserably at again.  It makes no sense to take decisions that are harmful to the players and the development of youth talent, especially decisions that reduce the exposure that players have.  Moreover, India’s other domestic cups-the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup aren’t fairing much better in terms of viewership either.

The signs were there though, and have been around for a while.  Old institutions like JCT Mills Phagwara and Mahindra United shut shop and left, leaving a hole that was temporarily plugged by the rise of Bengaluru FC, Pailan Arrows and Royal Wahingdoh.  The ISL seems like an opportunity for domestic players to improve their skills, working with established international talent; however there is only space for a 100 odd Indian players.  The other 72 players who went unsold may or may not be called up by their I-League clubs too.  With Pune FC and Bharat FC not committing to the League and Royal Wahingdoh closing doors and choosing to retain faith in the youth that were loyal to them, it seems unlikely that the players currently unattached will find a place to go.

Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, given the general apathy of the Indian sports authorities towards the plight of sportspersons, Kaushal Das, General Secretary of the AIFF dismissed the issue, saying it was a non unique problem that was prevalent the world over and if they were good enough, they would be able to play in any of the ‘numerous’ AIFF competitions, conveniently forgetting that they aren’t so numerous anymore.

As if losing to Guam wasn’t disappointing enough, there seems to be no urgency in fixing the dire state of Indian football.  The question we thus ask is, why are we not surprised? The fact that we ask this question is damning and shows the sad state of affairs.  Will things change post the Under-17 World Cup? We can only wait and see.

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