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The BBC's Jill McGivering
"Indian football does have some enthusiastic fans"
 real 28k

Monday, 24 July, 2000, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
India seeks soccer revival
India team bench
An anxious Indian bench before their first UK match
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

India's football team is taking part in a landmark tour - its first trip to the UK to take on two professional English teams and play Bangladesh on UK soil.

Indian team officials say they do not expect to win - they want their players to learn and gain experience as India launches a new drive to raise its standard of football and make a mark on the international scene.

Players in Delhi
Cricket remains the most popular game
Indian football does have some enthusiastic fans but they are a minority.

In most parts of the country, cricket is the game and football doesn't spark a great deal of interest.

Four years ago, the football authorities tried to improve standards and revive interest by launching a high-profile National League.

Bad state

But on the streets of Delhi today, most people say Indian football is in a sorry state.

"I think it's in a very bad state because we've not been able to go to any Olympics at all and being a population of over one billion, we must be doing better than what we are doing at the moment," one man told me.

Bhutia playing at Fulham
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"Not good - quite hopeless, in fact!" was the reaction of one woman.

And another man's opinion: "Present state - it's lousy, absolutely lousy."

India has more than a billion people, but ranks about 115 in world football.

Sports journalist Jaydeep Basu says football is failing to seduce sponsors or win fans because the performances just aren't good enough.

"Spectators won't come - nobody one wants to come to the ground and see your team losing every time

Sports journalist Jaydeep Basu

"In the last 10 years in football we have rarely won - we've beaten Bangladesh and Nepal but we have rarely won," he says.

"Spectators won't come - nobody one wants to come to the ground and see your team losing every time. Sometime or other, you have to win.

" And we don't get much of the international exposure also. That is the thing. "

Now the authorities are trying hard to increase that international exposure.

The All-India Football Federation has launched what it calls the Mission for Glory - an attempt to develop a team which is capable of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

Raising standards

Officials have organised the UK tour as a first step in this plan, a way of exposing promising young players to international standards.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the Federation's president, says the battle to attract funding is major problem.

He is optimistic that if he can raise standards even a little, sponsorship money and television coverage might increase.

If we can prove ourselves a little bit effective, I think sponsors will come and TV will be too happy to produce soccer

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi

" Until four years back we had no money to organise football. A player who comes from a very poor family had to struggle on one leg in the office for his job, the other leg in the field for football."

"But now the scenario's changed and hopefully it will be changed further. If we can prove ourselves a little bit effective, I think sponsors will come and TV will be too happy to produce soccer."

The variations in climate across India have been hailed as another reason why co-ordinating a national season has been fraught.

But all the battles against the weather, apathy, cash and lack of exposure must be won before this generation of youngsters can have a real chance of winning glory for India on the football field.

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23 Jul 00 | Fulham
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