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Rat Gumming Up the Works? Update on Indian Football

Rattus norvegicus—a common field rat—was believed the culprit behind the halftime power outage. To avoid confusion, this is not the alleged perpetrator.

Kolkata (Calcutta), India | We like the self-critical element that seems to pervade India's culture. Thus, when a rat snuck into a power substation during an 8 September World Cup qualifier with Japan—shorting out circuitry and delaying the start of the second half at 120,000-capacity Salt Lake Stadium by 30 minutes—commentators wailed. "Black Eye at Ballgame" read the headline in The Telegraph (Calcutta). In the article, All India Football Federation president Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi terms the incident the "great Bengal flop show." Aamader naak kata gechhe aajke! ("We have egg on our face!") Dasmunshi continues. By the way, India lost 4–0, having lost 7–0 in Saitama in the first leg; the side sits moribund, in third place with three points, in Asia Zone Group 3. Its victory came against Singapore, 1–0.

The lede to the Telegraph sidebar detailing the electrical failure—few particulars of which, to be honest, we understood—sounds Aesopian: "It was a tiny rat that finally felled the mighty government and made it hang its head in shame" ("Country's Pride to Stadium of Shame—Field Rat Ruins Day in Field," 9 September). Of more consequence than a rat's fatal encounter with a "bus bar" panel, however, is the sense that football in India has lost direction. A two-part BBC documentary (listen to parts 1 and 2; links open Real Player) shows that entanglements between entrenched state-based politicos and the amateur AIFF have produced stagnation. Dasmunshi, for example, serves also as India's Minister for Water Resources, demonstrating the organization's lack of independence, as well as a lack of professionalism. "We have 25 states but only two or three are doing anything with any success to develop youth," says India manager Steven Constantine (Mike Geddes, "What's Holding Back Indian Football?" BBC World Football, 30 July).

A participant in the IYSA's Street Kids program. (IYSA)

Youth football, in fact, falls under the purview of the Sports Authority of India, which does not receive FIFA monies. As a result, privately funded groups have tried to fill a void, groups such as the India Youth Soccer Association of Delhi. The association oversees an extensive youth system, with teams for boys and girls as well as a "street league" for homeless children (see Ayanjit Sen, "Indian Street Kids Given New Goal," BBC, 22 September 2003).

Throughout the discussion the question rages: which is bigger, football or cricket? From the perspective of outsiders, the answer appears to be cricket. India's success has stirred frenzy for the national team, with broadcast rights of $308 million being discussed for the upcoming India–Australia test series (Khozem Merchant, "Court to Rule in Dispute on Indian Cricket TV Coverage," Financial Times, 28 September; subscription required). Yet football has the longer tradition, with clubs, such as Mohun Bagan of Kolkata, dating their origins to the 1880s (although see Labonita Ghosh's report on the club's recent slide, "Self-Goal Club," Outlook India, 4 October). Kolkata-based East Bengal FC, too, has a distinguished tradition, highlighted in its summer tour of England—the first for an Indian professional team—and participation in a four-team tournament with first-division Leicester City (see Jaideep Mukherjee, "Pride of the East," Leicester Mercury, 30 July). East Bengal, despite the leadership of Baichung Bhutia, formerly of second-division Bury FC, finished fourth. Cricket seems better organized at all levels and has more grassroots support, but, as Global Game correspondent Pallab Muhury writes, football has a stronger competitive structure:

In cricket, guys have only one team—the Indian team—to support. But in soccer, the good club and institutional sides draw vast crowds. In soccer there are many teams . . . plus, of course, the national team. But the latter is hardly seen more than once a year on average, on TV, either cable or Doordarshan [publicly funded channel]. (personal correspondence, 24 May)

The Global Game will continue this conversation soon, with an interactive feature on the women's game in India and West Bengal, featuring reporting from Muhury.

'Synagogue or Soccer,' a Parable for the Times

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" (Mark 2:23–24, NRSV)

Children play ball at the site where Israel started building its separation barrier in the outskirts of the West Bank village of Biddu, north of Jerusalem. (AP, June 2004)

Ramat Gan, Israel | At Erev Rosh Hashanah, evening of the Jewish New Year, one can imagine UEFA as a Pharisaic body, having posed the question to Jewish fans of Maccabi Tel Aviv whether one should pray or enjoy the secular delights of the first Champions League match on Israeli soil. As we type, the team from Tel Aviv plays the German giants Bayern Munich, after much maneuvering over whether the match could go forward on the eve of the two-day holiday to commemorate creation. Parties petitioned the High Court of Justice to stop the game on the grounds that it undermined Jewish values; the three-judge panel said it had no jurisdiction ("High Court: Maccabi TA–Bayern Game outside Our Jurisdiction," Reuters, 13 September). Matchtime was also in dispute, until the continental body and Maccabi officials agreed on the original 9:45 p.m. local start, in line with the rest of the pan-European fixture list and perhaps more convenient for those leaving the challah at their dining tables. "You can all arrive with a full stomach and enjoy a fantastic occasion," said Maccabi manager Nir Klinger (Ofer Ronen-Abels, "Mac TA Set to Make History," The Jerusalem Post).

UEFA finds itself in an odd spot, having set the fixture date; yet, in its refusal to change the date, it also poses the Pharisaic question, asked by UEFA spokesman William Gaillard:

We cannot accept when everyone starts using national, religious, or political holidays as an argument for rescheduling matches. Every club which takes part in the competition of the Champions League knows the dates one year in advance. So now the people in Israel have to decide between synagogue and football. (Ronen-Abels, "UEFA to Maccabi Tel Aviv: Either Synagogue or Soccer," The Jerusalem Post, 2 September)

"The X-ray may not know much about soccer, but he doesn't have to," says Maccabi Herzliya chairman Ariel Scheiman.

In the end, Maccabi Tel Aviv vice-president Eli Driks did not appear overly upset by the outcome, or at least by the implications for religious observance. While pointing out that Israeli teams regularly play on the sabbath, he nevertheless lamented the increased costs for security and stewards that a holiday match would entail. (Yet see reports of the side's supposed reliance on Rabbi Shlomo Ifergan, "the X-ray"; Asher Goldberg, "When in Doubt, Ask Rabbi X-Ray," Ha'aretz, 22 July.) For Bayern's part, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge supported the move to an earlier date. "From what I was told," Rummenigge said, " the stadium will be sold out, but if we would have had to host a match on Christmas Eve, I am certain we wouldn't have been able to fill up our stadium." Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer suggested the side visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, although the trip was ruled out due to time constraints. The Germans could not remain untainted, however, as questions arose over the absence of striker Vahid Hashemian of Iran. Ha'aretz said Hashemian would not make the trip due to "a supposed injury" ("Mac. TA Confident as Injury and Politics Plague Bayern," 14 September), implying that the real reason was the Iranian ban on citizens traveling to Israel. An Iranian judoka had refused to compete against an Israeli in the Athens Olympics.

As we consider the meanings of the sometimes inscrutable teacher from Galilee, to continue the thought above—"The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27)—perhaps the holiday's more savory dish involves Galilee's own Bnei Sakhnin (see 18 May gleanings entry). The Sakhninites tomorrow continue their long-shot UEFA Cup bid with a third-round match against Newcastle United on Tyneside. In doing so, they are proving an object lesson in Arab-Israeli coexistence—the team is a multicultural blend of Jews and Arab citizens of Israel, with several from other nations—while also serving as a reminder of lamentable living conditions in some Arab communities. In order to get to the Sakhnin training ground, writes one correspondent, one moves "along a rutted dirt track, past a fetid sewage lake and an overflowing rubbish dump laden with the carcasses of dogs" (Robert Tait, "From across the Divide, a United Team Offers Hope for the Middle East," The Independent [U.K.]). The sobering assessment of Jafar Farah of the Mossawa Center in Haifa: "The reality is that there is no co-existence in this state."

Three Promising Youngsters, Three Cultural Conundrums

Feelings on Merseyside about the Sun have not calmed, even after 15 years.

Manchester, England | Wayne Rooney, in a transfer completely lacking in suspense, has joined global marketing force and über-club Manchester United. One of at least three teenagers carrying the "next Pelé" label—along with Robinho of Santos and Freddy Adu of D.C. United—Rooney's sale capped an extraordinary summer for the 18-year-old. The former Evertonian generated "Rooneymania" in the European Championships (see our "Euro blog") and, in the same tournament, suffered a broken foot, an injury that still keeps him sidelined. But Rooney offers a far more interesting study for some of his decisions off the pitch and for the way these decisions are filtered through the English press. Both Robinho and Adu face their own challenges within vastly different football cultures—to which we will come shortly—but Rooney's combination of youth, captivating skill and salvific potential (that is, the potential he has to save Sven-Göran Eriksson's bacon) creates special pressures.

Rooney's unique place within the English imagination perhaps most clearly emerged during the summer, following Euro 2004 and as all things Wayne became public commodities. In selling his "world exclusive" story to the Rupert Murdoch–owned Sun tabloid for some £250,000, Rooney set off a swirl of events that recalled the darkness of Hillsborough 15 years earlier. As a Merseysider, although only 3 years old when the tragedy occurred, Rooney and certainly his advisers should have known better than to deal with the Sun, infamous for its egregiously careless journalism following the 1989 disaster—as if its misogynistic style of reportage and inflammatory headlines would not be enough to scare anyone away. But the Sun headlines post-Hillsborough, within days of the 96 deaths—"Some fans picked pockets of victims"; "Some fans urinated on the brave cops"; "Some fans beat up PCs giving the kiss of life"—assured an almost total loss of its Liverpool circulation (Owen Gibson, "What the Sun Said 15 Years Ago," The Guardian, 7 July). Incredibly, 15 years on, the Sun still has not regained the 200,000 local readers it reportedly lost that week. It sells 3.3 million copies nationwide but only 12,000 in Liverpool (Ian Burrell, "An Own Goal? Rooney Caught in Crossfire between 'The Sun' and an Unforgiving City," The Independent [U.K.], 8 July).

More substantively, some feel that the Sun in its carelessness helped perpetuate a negative stereotype of Liverpool. Jon Brown, deputy editor of the Liverpool Echo, says:

The Sun's coverage of Hillsborough still has ramifications today in the vilification of Scousers, of an entire culture and community. It blackened the reputation of the city and it has still not recovered. If you go anywhere in the world Liverpool has a great reputation. If you go anywhere in England, it's different. (David Smith, "The City That Eclipsed the Sun," The Observer [U.K.], 11 July)

After its Rooney "exposé," the Sun made matters worse by printing a front-page "apology" that, while saying "we gladly say sorry again . . . fully, openly, honestly and without reservation," also managed to plug itself in the same article: "For goodness sake, give the lad [Rooney] a chance. . . . [N]early all Liverpool-born celebrities regularly talk to Britain's favourite daily newspaper" ("Don't Blame Rooney," 13 July; article only available through paid archive). The Sun also alleged that its rivals—the Trinity Mirror–owned Liverpool Echo and Post (Trinity Mirror owns the Sun's tabloid rival, the Daily Mirror)—were the ones exploiting Rooney, to which the Echo responded:

The cows mark a Manchester renaissance. (Slate.com)

Today's Sun article is not a real apology. It is a shameless and cynical attempt to win readers. And most people on Merseyside will realise that. The Sun has missed the point and lost the plot. The majority of the people of Merseyside have nothing personal against Wayne Rooney. They feel he has been badly advised. . . . Today's Sun exaggerates, over-reacts and depicts a lurid picture of hate which is about as far from the truth as its London offices are from Goodison Park. ("The Sun Has Lost the Plot [Again]," 7 July)

So Rooney now leaves Merseyside, perhaps with some relief. He moves to the Northeast and to a city seeking to reinvent itself, as revealed in June Thomas's recent weeklong Slate diary ("Manchester, So Much to Answer For," 30 August; see also subsequent entries). Will Rooney become part of the "bourgeoisification of the working class" of which George Orwell wrote in the 1930s in The Road to Wigan Pier (see Thomas's day 2)? With the Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry as evidence, perhaps the once-gritty Lancashire city has room for another urban hulk looking to retool.

And what of Robinho and Adu? Robson do Sousa—Robinho's given name—is also 18 and plays for Pelé's old club Santos; his skills have helped lead Santos back into the limelight of South American football. The possible burden seems clear to Santos management, who have barred Robinho from wearing Pelé's No. 10 jersey. "[T]he simple sight of a young black boy of such promise wearing that number would trigger a collective recollection in Brazil too profound for anyone to bear," writes Guy Lawson in his recent Observer profile ("The Boy Wonder," 5 September). Lawson continues:

The likeness between the two was first suggested by Pelé himself. He had been estranged from his old team for years, feuding with the directors over the allegations of fraud and corruption that have long blighted Brazilian football. But the very first day he returned to Santos to work with the junior players, as if drawn by a karmic force, he spotted Robinho. The boy was only 13, his shirt dangling from the narrow, underfed shoulders, but Pelé instantly saw himself in the boy. Not in size, strength or style of play. As a child Pelé was bigger, stronger, direct, the product of an age before the poverty and hunger of Brazil today; Robinho was small, skinny, sly. Pelé meant in the mastery of ela [the ball], in familiarity and control of her; in his ways with her.

The encounter as depicted may be apocryphal; indeed, it smacks of hagiography. But the sense of precedent in Brazil seems strong, a nation able to field a roster of "next Pelés" (featuring Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Diego . . .). Alex Bellos even dissects the phrase in his own Robinho profile. The reality has arrived that it is not enough for Robinho to remain a malabarista—a magician, trickster, illusionist—and master of the pedalada (pedaling-like feint). Agent Wagner Ribeiro has advised his client to shun the pedalada, realizing that "every Brazilian hopes to go to Europe. I am very sad about this." Robinho, according to Lawson, seeks to become a craque, a "player of substance": "The craque doesn't pass to a man. He passes to ponto futuro: a point in the future."

Another drama in self-creation involves Adu, 15, who suffers somewhat in his quest from the naïveté of the U.S. press and public. The age dilemma for Adu is dual-edged. After the questions as to whether the Ghanaian-born Adu were truly 15—an insinuation, whether intended or not, of assumed Third World incompetence—now he must play a joyful game with serious men (see Steven Goff's extended profile, "The Emergence of a Prodigy," Washington Post, 31 August). He is both young and, in a sense, old: we see above, with Rooney and Robinho, how, in the minds of dreamers and nostalgists, 18 represents the height of athletic potential. But, for realists, 17 or 18, too, might be the age of emergence: when a mark must be made, the monster transfer arranged. Already at Highbury, the Arsenal supporters sing of midfield wizard Francesc Fábregas ("Fábregas the Fabulous: A Star on the Rise," FIFA.com, 7 September):

He's only seventeen
And he's better than Roy Keane.

Hurry up, Freddy. Time is wasting.

Despicable Arson, No Matter the Motivation

Click for FURD 2003 report, 1.2 MB PDF
Football Unites, Racism Divides outlines its activities in a 2003 report. Click here or on picture for PDF (1.2 MB).Click for FURD PDF
Sheffield, England | Staff at Football Unites, Racism Divides refer euphemistically to the time following an arson attack and computer theft as a "tricky period." Multiple attacks culminated in the fire on 24 July, which damaged library holdings, burned leaflets and distributed smoke throughout the building. No one was injured, although the offices—located in a building that also houses affiliated resource centers for Asian women and for youth of African and Caribbean descent—have been relocated. Howard Holmes, FURD coordinator, told the Sheffield Star that, in his opinion, there was no "racist agenda." "They have stolen a couple of computers so there was profit to be gained" ("Youth Centre Counts Cost of Arson Attack," 26 July). The group, launched in 1996, directs an astounding array of projects, outlined in its 2003 report (1.2 MB PDF file; see photo, right). An account of the group's beginnings makes for interesting reading. In a game between the home side, Sheffield United, and Bolton, on 22 November 1996, just 1 percent of spectators were of color, compared to an ethnic-minority youth population of 44 percent in the Sharrow city-council ward. Further, researchers from Sheffield Hallam University reported that minority residents were suffering harassment on match days, such that they closeted themselves indoors. With a clear objective of ensuring "that people who play or watch football can do so without fear of racial abuse and harassment," the FURD partnership set to work. Its credo states:

FURD believes that football, as the world's most popular game, can help bring people together—people from different backgrounds, to play, watch and enjoy the game, and to break down barriers created by ignorance or prejudice.

The Global Game has long linked to FURD's online resource library; sadly, at least some of the library's holdings appear to have been damaged in the fire. But we have learned much about the FURD partnership over the last few days: that its advocacy for the forgotten history of black footballers helped lead in 1997 to placing a headstone at the grave of Ghanaian-born Arthur Wharton, a goalkeeper for top-flight English sides in the 1890s; that it has devised a mobile, inflatable football game, stolen from a freight container after the 2004 European Championships; that it has helped form an Asian team to play in a regional adult league; that it has created women's sides, one of which competed in the 2002 Anti-racist World Cup; and that it has secured more than £150,000 for the Porter Project, an all-weather football pitch, training facility and future home for FURD—all located in Sharrow.

The Global Game regrets that is has taken a crisis to make us aware of the full scope of FURD's activities. We urge you to visit the FURD website and to let them know of your support.