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Football: Beautiful game plays second fiddle to cricket in India

Despite a population of more than a billion, India does not feature as a football superpower. Fans of the game believe that too much red tape and too little infrastructure are the main culprits.

NEW DELHI: In 1950, India qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but the then newly independent country declined the chance to play -- citing the long sea journey, team selection issues and being unable to play in bare feet.

64 years on, football is growing in popularity but it might take a little longer before cricket-loving India makes the swap to the beautiful game.

Despite a population of more than a billion, India does not feature as a football superpower.

Fans of the game believe that too much red tape and too little infrastructure are the main culprits.

D K Bose, president of the Hindustan Football Club, said: "The federation itself does not have any playing field. If they do not have any ground of their own for the national team to practise, what is there to talk about for the clubs? We are the private bodies.

"In Delhi, there are five (planning and municipal) agencies... If one footpath is owned by one agency, the other footpath by another, (it becomes) a complex situation."

The sport is controlled by a committee-based body, the All India Football Federation, which is funded by FIFA.

However, the national youth football association comes under the auspices of the Sports Authority of India, an organisation that does not get money from FIFA.

This often leads to confusion and frustration as young talented players often end up not getting any financial support and thus feel a sense of disillusionment.

Kartik Chanana, a football enthusiast, said: "Every country is developing. India is not developing. We are falling further and further behind.

"In Japan, they started football in the 1990s, they got their professional league. We still don't have our professional League. We call the I-League as professional, but it's not professional, it's just an amateur league."

Still it is hard to ignore a game that is played and seen by hundreds of millions of people all around the world.

Cricket may be India's staple sport but if football gets its act together, there might just be able to put up a challenge in the years to come.

What it needs now, is better infrastructure as well as marketing to create awareness.

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