Argentina’s superstar Lionel Messi and France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe were having a heart-pounding fight at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar… I was also watching this wonderful football match with great delight. The faster the pace of the game, the faster my heartbeat was and with the same intensity, the questions kept popping up in my mind.
In the politics being played on the field across the world, why have big countries made small countries and powerful countries have made weak countries a football field? Just to kick the small and weak countries at will to project themselves as victors! …And the biggest question is, when are we going to celebrate for our country on the football field?
There are only two mediums that have the ability to paint this discoloured world in the colour of love. One is music and the other is sports! But politics has entered the game, and the game of politics is also going on in this world. Whenever America wanted, it made Pakistan sit in its lap and whenever it wanted, it kicked it out! Similarly, the Russian President Putin kicked the small and weak countries around him whenever he wanted to and now, he is determined to destroy Ukraine. America is continuously kicking North Korea.
Big and powerful countries like America, China and Russia make every possible effort to destabilise the weak and small countries. If you turn to African countries, some dictator is kicking his own people there. In a country like Afghanistan, everyone is being kicked around like a football.
Crores of people want to breathe in the fresh air, but their life has become like football… they don’t know when and where they would get a kick. It seems that humanity is vanishing into thin air. The importance of football in the playground is by reaching the goalpost because victory is not scored unless the football reaches there (goalpost).
Small countries are getting kicked on the ground in world politics but they are not destined to reach the goalpost. While enjoying the game, I remembered the scene of the FIFA World Cup 2018 when a man was standing behind FIFA chairman Gianni Infantino with an umbrella because it was raining. There was no umbrella over Putin. I am narrating this incident so that you can understand the status of the FIFA chairman. Why not? After all, football is a medium to spread brotherhood and love.
FIFA was started for this brotherhood. Yes, in many countries of the world, fans get agitated for their teams and till now hundreds of lives have been lost. But sports never teaches violence! Argentina is the best example of how sports can change the fortunes of a country. About 50 years ago, Argentina was considered a country with immense potential to become a rich and powerful country, but even today 4 out of 10 people there are poor. Half of the population of children up to the age of 14 is poor. Notwithstanding this, they play such powerful football and show the strength of their country to the whole world, winning global acclaim.
Under the circumstances, this question is bound to arise in my mind and the question must arise in your mind as well that when small countries with less population than our districts can achieve big feats on the football field, why not our country with a population of more than 130 crore? Is there no passion for football in our country? I don’t think so. From West Bengal, Kerala, Maharashtra and Goa to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, and even the remote areas of Kashmir, children can be seen playing football. These children also have the potential to become players like Pele, Ronaldo, Messi, Mabkhout, Hussein Saeed, Neymar and Sunil Chhetri.
There is a need to give them the right direction and the right energy. But this is where we make mistakes. This is the reason that in the international ranking, we have gone down even below the 100th position. I would like to say one more thing that there was never a lack of passion in us. Remember that in the 1948 London Summer Olympics, eight of our 11 players entered the field without shoes to play against France.
When someone questioned Talimeren Ao, a doctor living in Nagaland and captain of the Indian team, he laughed and replied, “Well, you see, we play football in India, whereas you play bootball.” Regrettably, our governments have become indifferent toward sports. I remember that in 1982, due to the special efforts of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Asian Games were organised in Delhi.
At the time, the fortunes of Delhi shone, and Appu, the mascot of the Asiad, became famous all over the country and the world. At the same time, colour television also made its appearance in India. Had we been organising such events continuously and given priority to sports, India would have reached places in the field of sports! Playing is the natural thing for children. But when there are no grounds and no awareness about sports, how will good players be born?
Today, sports in the country means only cricket. I am also fond of cricket. I have also been playing cricket in my youth, but by no stretch of imagination can you justify the flourishing of one sport and the languishing of others. To some extent, private sectors have extended their hand of cooperation for football and other sports as well, but only this much is not going to work.
The government will have to take steps with determination. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have to take the initiative so that international events are held in our country as well. This will also develop infrastructure and create awareness and yearning for sports in children. The chief ministers will also have to instruct the sporting authorities to ensure the development of sports in their states. Let’s hope for the day when our players score goals in the World Cup and we whistle, dance, sing and celebrate!
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.