Football : An Underdog Story
A few months ago, while the scribes across the globe ran bytes and bytes of data as eulogies to a departing revolutionary tech wizard, the verdant valleys of the North Eastern regions of India were silent for an altogether different reason.
If we have a Sachin Tendulkar, then we have a Baichung Bhutia, too. Sadly, one of them ended up receiving quite the step-motherly treatment.
Sure, cricket has always gripped the entire nation since decades, but I can't help but accept the fact that most of the city streets in India have their gully-cricketers wearing Messi and Beckham jerseys.
Statistics show that in India, Football comes in a close third, after Cricket and Hockey. I've seen kids show more interest in football - on the grounds, in their Fantasy League selections, in the water-cooler talks - but eventually, it's a cricketer that sells you toothpaste or a cellphone!
Baichung Bhutia, the younger son of two farmers and brother of a local-level footballer, was born in Tinkitam, Sikkim. A born athlete, his genius and innate passion found a place in Indian football. After playing for India on club as well as national levels for two decades, Baichung showed his gratitude to his homeland in the form of United Sikkim - his own football team. Accolades came by and went - he served as the poster-boy of Indian football for his entire career of two decades.
But where was Football? Stints and brushes with the international football leagues in England, US and Europe happened. Baichung sure got what he deserved, but not in his own country. It still ticks me off that Indians to a great extent stay aloof from names like Chuni Goswami, Baichung Bhutia, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Bros., etc. It's quite strange to see a globally-favoured sport treated like an underdog in this country.
Times like these make you realize that sports like football or hockey in this nation is all about hope and perseverance being the riding force. Skill is a basic pre-requisite for any sport; it's the former that you need to cultivate to keep marching forth.
Baichung Bhutia, India's ace footballer, retired on an August day - ironic, indeed. Marred by injuries and allegations of faltering commitment, Bhutia threw in the towel, leaving Indian football in doldrums. Fanatics might have already started seeing a Messiah in another budding football talent - Sunil Chhetri; the question that arises here, however, is: Is India suffering from the â€˜Messiah' complex? We have our fair share of saviours in cricket too, but shouldn't one work towards saving the sport rather than saving the day?
Like the early 90s, Indian football matches might witness a greater level of broadcast on national television channels and eyeball-grabbing marketing strategies in the near future. While pessimism might act as a detriment, what could work in the interest of the growth of football in this country is support and initiative. Maybe breaking conventions should and will be the convention.
To this day, we look forward.
Arnab Ghosh, a Ph. D. student of the Department of Mathematics, IIT Guwahati, is...