The Chhetri/Virat social media pull that could spur the nation on to Asian Cup glory
07 Jun 2018
Four to five decades ago, Hockey was perhaps the most popular sport in India, though cricket was also getting popular, especially among the elites of the Nation still it was nowhere near to Hockey. India won Gold medals in Olympics Hockey in 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964 and 1980. Needless, to say India was a dominant force in the World of Hockey during that time, on our best days we would thrash any opponents.
But, after 1980’s, we never won a Gold in the Olympics in Hockey; in fact, no medal in Hockey thereafter in the Olympics for Team India. As a result, the popularity of Hockey started getting lesser with each passing year.
Just 3 years later, the unimaginable happened, Kapil Dev’s Indian Cricket Team defeated the mighty West Indies at Lords. We went to the tournament as mere underdogs and nobody expected us to qualify beyond the Group stages and in fact, if it was not for Kapil Dev’s heroic performance against Zimbabwe we would have been ousted from the Cup at an early stage.
6 years later Sachin Tendulkar happened!
He was not just a good cricketer but was the hope, emotion, love and the binding force for 100 Crore Indians back then. Whenever he used to bat, the whole Nation would come to a standstill. Such was the pull of the guy. Cricket in India became synonyms to Sachin Tendulkar.
By the beginning of the 21stCentury India had become a formidable force in the World of Cricket and under the able leadership of Sourav Ganguly, it received the right direction and approach. With wins in the 2007 World Cup and 2011 World Cup, the popularity of cricket is soaring high and probably it is, at its Zenith now.
Under the radar was the condition of football in India, which has not always been like this. The period from 1950 to 1964 is considered as the golden period of Indian football under the then Indian Coach Rahim Saab, India has won various tournaments and defeated some of the best Nations of those days. India won gold during the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games while finishing fourth during the 1956 Olympics. India was a side which gave teams a run for their money outside the continent too.
During the 1960 Rome Olympics, India held the France National Team to a 1-1 draw and narrowly lost to the then European Football Champion team Hungary. During those days, Indian football team was called, Brazil of Asia’ because they played skillful short-passing football, with focus on body swerves and dribbling.
Indian football’s downfall started from the late 1980s as all the other Nations started giving importance to Sports Science, building proper infrastructure, setting up competitive League Structure, working on Youth set-up, while India remained stuck to the age-old practices, also, youth development was only given lip-service in Indian football. Age group football in India was/is full of fraudulent players masquerading as youngsters and most importantly, the Governing football body of India just didn’t do enough to spread the game all over the country. Even, five years back, the game was played only in certain pockets of the country.
So, football was indeed a very popular sport in the country long back but it is not anymore but thankfully things are changing for the better.
The game which was once confined only in Goa and Kolkata now has the representation of 9 different states in the I-League and 10 different states in the ISL. The Game is now being spread fast and rapidly throughout the country. Jamshedpur, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, etc. all non-traditional football centers, now have teams representing them in the top flight of Indian football.
The biggest thing Sunil Chhetri’s plea video did is that it got the attention of all the social/news media houses and the people of the Nation. News channels now know, if they cover Indian football, there are viewers out there who would want to know about their new found heroes. This is very important step because winning alone wouldn’t make the game popular in the country as we also need a medium to let the masses know about the achievements. To spread the word far and wide.
One crucial concern though, is whether it was Sunil Chhetri’s video or was it Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar, whose subsequent videos pulled the crowd to the stadiums and onto Twitter and other social media. A small sampled analysis showed that on our platform, Virat Kohli got 1100+ hits while Sunil Chhetri could only muster up 300+. Thus, the conclusions are hard to make from this single data point, but it does act as a good indicator.
Either way, the Indian Football buzz has happened just 6 months before the Asian Cup 2019, which can become a game changer for football in the country. With all the Desi Media’s attention towards the Indian Football Team, if somehow India can pull off some miraculous wins in this Asian Cup Tournament, then be sure that it will create a massive uproar in the country.
It can be said with surety that, if Indian football team continues to improve its performance and starts performing well in major tournaments like Asian Cup or the Asian games, football will become as popular as cricket is.
The people of our country are becoming more accepting of other sports. The kind of attention our boxers, weight-lifters, wrestlers, shooters, badminton players have started getting in last few years, proves this point. Mary Kom is a nominated member of Rajya Sabha. A movie has been made on her. Aamir Khan made a movie (Dangal) on Phogat sisters – wrestlers from Haryana. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, an Olympic medal winner, is a minister in the Central Government.
Was it possible earlier in a cricket-crazy India?
So, India is willing to go mad after football. They have the public backing and media attention. It is now down to them to show up on the pitch with their performances and justify the backing. Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar spurred the fans on, but it is down to players like Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua to grab this opportunity and make it big on this platform.