Time to wake up from being mere sleeping giant!
One more moment to prove its worth passed by for Indian football. As has been the pattern in recent times, the sport raises hope but the end result hardly matches the ambition.
The recent World cup qualfier match between Oman and India is a case in point. Anybody who would have seen this Muscat match would have noted the strong content in the team, the good ball play but who is to do the finishing job upfront or show the enterprise where it was most needed? This vital aspect was missed. A one-goal defeat was the verdict and once again Indian football stood exposed.
As the Croatian coach of the team, Igor Stimac assessed, the Indian team organised itself well but upfront there was clear case of paucity in ideas and that in the final analysis undid all the good show. So the status quo remains and nursing hopes of another new dawn form the only return for Indian football.
In some ways the state of Indian football is symptomatic of the ills that are reigning Indian sports in general barring a few exceptions. Leave aside badminton, table tennis, shooting and perhaps tennis too to name a few. These sports have established a system that is proving productive. But by far the rest of sporting disciplines remain in a state where progress remains more or less a chimera, little else.
The achievements or the lack of them speak for this. In athletics for instance, promises soar on the eve of every major multi-discipline or major Games but thereafter pours the reasons in a heap on why the expectations failed.
The less said better about volleyball and basketball while hockey is one sport which had seen the biggest slide from a world dominator once to an also ran much later. This national sport has been struggling in its bid to regain its old glory. Will it ever succeed, only time will tell.
The exercise here is not to reflect or lament over the depressive side of Indian sports but to make an effort to highlight the need to think bigger and bolder for the future. We have seen how our neighbouring country China has made strides in sports to the extent that it dislodged all the regular toppers to head the medals table in the 2008 Olympics which it hosted.
This transformation did not happen suddenly but through a constructive phase of deep planning and critical execution. The world thus opened its eyes to this new powerhouse in sports. Many then felt that India, which is as big in terms of population as China should take a leaf from this grand scenario and set out a similar road map to a brighter sporting future.
It may not be easy to replicate what China did because ground realities are different including the political system. But giving sports the importance which it deserves could be one step that can go a long way. From the days when children were dissuaded from taking sports too seriously at the expense of academics, things have changed a trifle, thanks for instance to the strides that a sport like cricket has made.
At least Parents now would not mind if their children (girls not exempted!) took to cricket from early age and be serious about that. Cricket today assures security and what is more a standing in society even if to the discerning.
Now the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju has thrown a little light on how the Government wished to give sports its due place. Speaking recently in Chennai, the Minister said the Central Board of Secondary Education was preparing a system to introduce sports as part of the school curriculum. Surely it should be open for all kinds of schools.
When his predecessor Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, an Olympic silver medallist, took the initiative for the Khelo India Games that opened up the sports arena for young talents all over the country that was the first sign of something positive being done to justify the Government's keenness to bring in a sporting culture in the country.
In fact, according to the Minister over 10,000 young athletes in various disciplines had been picked from these Games so far for specialised training across the various Sports Authority of India (SAI) facilities in the country.
Rijiju has now presented a fresh perspective to this with his announcement. If sports becomes a compulsory discipline as opposed to its current status of being extra-curricular, that has the potential of becoming a game changer. The need of course is for an effective implementation.
The term, 'starting from the grassroots level' in an oft repeated suggestion when discussions on sports development in the country take place but why nothing much comes about after that is a mystery. At least not much has been heard on the football front.
As the national coach Stimac famously emphasises, things cannot happen overnight, while assessing the way the Indian team confronts one challenge after another but with minimum success so far, the national sports scene too could change with time.
At least the Minister is confident that everything would be in place and before long a more realistic forecast of India's sporting future can be had. As he said at the Rio Olympics in 2016, India could gain only two medals, finishing 67th in the medals table. The look out or the next big target should be to get into the top ten in terms of medals gained. This is not impossible or unrealistic nor easy, as he said but the requirement is being serious about it.