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KOLKATA (CALCUTTA), 30 SEPTEMBER 2004
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Rat Gumming Up the Works? Update on Indian Football
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

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

Youth football, in fact, falls under the purview of the Sports Authority of India, which

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

  • Mumbai (Bombay) | 12 January 2004 . . . Monday Night Football in the NFL—the National Football League of India—and a legend gains an overdue honor. Neville D'Souza played for India in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, "considered the high-point of Indian football" (Nandakumar Marar, "Recalling Neville's Extraordinary Exploits in Olympic Football," The Hindu, 3 September 2000), The 1956 Indian side. Courtesy hinduonnet.comwhere the side finished fourth and D'Souza scored a hat trick against Australia. The Mumbai District Football Association honored D'Souza, who died in 1980 of a brain hemorrhage, before a fixture between Mahindra United and Vasco of Goa. D'Souza's widow, Lyra, tells the Times of India that "it took nearly 25 years since his death for somebody to recognise his achievements, but better late than never" (Nitin Naik, "Mumbai Salutes Soccer Legend," 13 January). Brother Dereyk de Souza, a former goalkeeper for the national side, also laments Neville's slide into anonymity, attributing a nation's short memory to the lack of television coverage when Neville played. In the article in The Hindu, de Souza remembered Neville's characteristics:

    Neville's greatest quality was his humility. He hated to talk about his own achievements, however extraordinary. Even the Melbourne Games hat-trick did not come up in our football discussions. He would talk about Melbourne as something I should experience. See the march-past, the Indians walking in with turbans and the Olympic atmosphere. He would goad me to aim for an Olympic place. I knew this was going to be my role model.

  • Bangalore, India | 6 November 2003 . . . Continuing the trend toward celebrity politicians (see also Berlusconi, Schwarzenegger), liquor magnate Vijay Mallya has entered the fray by building his own political party in the state of Karnataka (Aravind Adiga, "Life of the Party," Time Asia, 10 November 2003). Like one of his heroes, Berlusconi (see below), Mallya includes football teams as part of his portfolio. Interestingly, though, Mallya has purchased Kolkata (Calcutta) rivals Mohun Bagan FC and East Bengal, the latter topping Mohun for the Calcutta league championship in September. According to the DK World Soccer Yearbook, 2002–3, Mohun is considered the team of indigenous West Bengalis (Ghatis), with East Bengal representing immigrants from Bangladesh (Bangals).Vijay Mallya flashes the Nixonian "V" (See also Kausik Bandyopadhyay, "Race, Nation, and Sport: Footballing Nationalism in Colonial Calcutta," Soccer & Society 4, no. 1 [spring 2003]: 1–19.) Despite his riches and fuzzy grasp of the local language, Kannada, Mallya is styling himself as one of the people, as when he campaigns among the poverty- and drought-stricken in Kolar. Adiga writes:

    He's exchanged the heavy diamond studs for simple gold earrings and is decked out in the chaste all-white kurta and pajama of a typical Indian politician. "God has given me everything," Mallya tells the audience. "Money, big houses, fame. I want nothing more—except the chance to serve you." The crowd listens politely and begins to drift away—until the techno music starts to pound. A green laser beam projects images on a giant screen: first a map of India, then objects of desire, such as washing machines and pickup trucks. Dry-ice vapors envelop the stage. Engines rev. And a 25-car entourage whisks Mallya away, leaving behind a bewildered, speechless but thoroughly entertained crowd.

  • Hyderabad, India | 23 October 2003 . . . The football competition at the inaugural Afro Asian Games, 10 years in the planning, India and Rwanda slog through a soaked pitch in Hyderabadis underway. With some of the best players not participating due to commitments in Europe, however, expectations are low. The Associated Press reports: "[O]rganizers apparently forgot about the annual northern monsoons that dump rain on the region at this time of year, and the Hyderabad city authorities were blaming each other for failing to clear clogged storm drains that left ankle-deep water around the town and on the field. 'We've never played in these conditions before. They affected our team badly,' said [Rwanda coach Dujkovic] Ratomir. 'My players didn't have the shoes for these conditions.' " (Update: India lost the Afro Asian final 1-0 to Uzbekistan.) | back to top