This is a rant.
With the FIFA World Cup well underway we are witnessing India’s love for the game which grows to new heights every time the World Cup or the Eurpean Championships kick off. Football is everywhere. We have debates, discussions, analysis of matches among the people, and on the mainstream media be it TV, digital or print. But would we have the same when our national team plays in the Asian Cup 2019? Sad to say but the chance is slim. The fact that hardly any of those die hard football fans even know about the Asian Cup is enough to keep the hopes pinned down.
Let’s be honest – Asian football is neither as lucrative for Indian media as its European counterpart, nor it is followed by Indians, barring a few. Apart from the A-League and CSL, no other league from an Asian nation is aired in India. Both the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup (where Indian clubs participate regularly) are not televised on any channel in India. Many Indians won’t even know what countries these leagues belong to and worse, some may even not know the full form of AFC. Popular or not, the AFC Asian Cup is the most prestigious tournament to take place in the continent and shares the same light as the European Championships. So, when the Indian team heads to the UAE in January next year to take on the bests in Asia, it deserves all the attention.
The Sad State of ‘Cricket frenzy’ Indian media
India is a cricket loving country and it is always an uphill task for any other sport to share the limelight with the bat-ball sport where India ranks the best among a handful of nations. Most Indians would be well aware about our cricket team’s upcoming matches, team gossips, future tours and sometimes even what Virat Kohli had in breakfast, but ask them to name a defender from our football or hockey team and many would stumble. Barring cricket, every sport in India is a victim of this bias. It is high time that changes and football can be a good note to start with.
Even though it is possible for multiple sports to be equally followed in the country, our media’s bias towards cricket and its gossips hardly leaves any space for other sports to be even introduced to the public, let alone reaching the households.
Non-Existent Coverage of Indian football
When was the last time you saw Indian football being discussed on news channels? A big, full page coverage of our leagues and national team? No I am not considering the coverage after Sunil Chhetri’s appeal, that is called making hay while the sun shines. And again, that too wasn’t about our game. Did our media wake up after that? Yes, for one day perhaps. What about now? Where are those channels that ‘pledged‘ to cover Indian football? Where is the media when there’s uncertainty over the team’s participation in the Asian Games? Do they even care?
If you too didn’t know about this it’s probably not your fault. The only thing that’s ever discussed on our channels is everything that’s wrong with Indian football which ultimately ends up with inconclusive debates between ‘experts’, with a host who’s been programmed to slam the governing body and bring out age old arguments like money, lack of physicality and corruption. That’s all the superficial coverage football or rather Indian football gets in our country. There are a few exceptions, of course, but it has always been about the mentality more than the technicality.
Take a look at the video below, the anchor isn’t even sure about which tournament we are hosting, calls Asian Cup as Asia Cup (cricket effect) and produces only generic facts about football in India and the errors are cringe worthy to say the least. Such is the quality of our media.
Who plays, who should play, what formation we play, who and how do we play, does Indian media cover any of these aspect of Indian football? When the squad for the Asian Cup is announced, do you expect our media to cover that as extensively as they’re doing for the FIFA World Cup? One may argue that it is the job of a sports channel but it still makes it the media’s responsibility to spread correct information among the citizens, which it doesn’t. It is a sad state and believe me this is one big let down that has kept Indian football (and other sports) from soaring high.
Let’s discount our Hindi media, they seem to have too much of crazy stuff to cover that leaves them with little time left to show news. But isn’t this the biggest setback for our football? Those who follow European football are most likely versed with English but a majority of our population still watches Hindi news channels, reads Hindi news papers but sadly Indian football hardly ever manages more than a couple of lines on the ticker which too are often full of dumb errors.
English media too doesn’t do justice with Indian football. 13 match unbeaten run, qualification for the Asian Cup, triumph in the Intercontinental Cup. Achievements like these were not enough to make headlines in most of our national dailies. Even the sports section pages saw only few paragraphs of generic coverage. 5 minutes on TV and 2-3 paragraphs in a news paper, that’s all Indian football gets and more often than not you won’t even find Indian football, unlike cricket that makes headlines for one thing or another. The FIFA U-17 World Cup did see dedicated coverage but as the tournament wrapped up, so did the coverage of the U17 team and anything associated with them.
The point here is not to criticise the extensive coverage of cricket but the ignorance towards other sports. Sports like football, hockey, tennis, badminton are often overlooked by our national news media and if not for social media and digital platforms, most of the information wouldn’t even find a way to the fans and public. The media is responsible for creating super stars, creating hype, for making people aware of things that matter but sadly for sports in India, such contribution is very limited.
An Appeal to the Indian media
India is not playing the FIFA world cup, we are also not one of the best teams in the world, but we are going to compete in the AFC Asian Cup in January 2019. Our team will play hosts UAE, Bahrain and Thailand in the group and are hopeful of making it past the group stage. Indian football fans will be behind the Blue Tigers but it would be a lost opportunity if only a handful of the population knew that the tournament is going on, not because the others were not interested but because there was no coverage on newspapers and TV channels. The Asian Cup is perhaps bigger than any tournament contested by any Indian senior team across sports.
Let’s join hands in taking Indian football forward. Just as skipper Sunil Chhetri said, talk about the game, discuss about the tactics, let people know about their team and what they are upto, for once break the bias and cover Indian football properly. Hope #BackTheBlue will be as famous as #MeriDoosriCountry.
In case the media doesn’t wake up, catch the latest updates and news on Indian football on GoalBold.