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Page last updated at 18:41 GMT, Sunday, 11 July 2010 19:41 UK

World Cup 2010: India's football absence examined

An Indian boy wears a shirt bearing the name of Wayne Rooney
A lack of prescience on the global stage means Indian football fans have been able to take their pick of the World Cup participants

By Mukesh Sharma
BBC Hindi

There is an old proverb in India: "Padhoge Likhoge to banoge nawab, kheloge koodoge to banoge kharab."

It means that if you study properly you will be successful in life, but on the other hand if you play too much you will simply waste your life.

This mentality has contributed to India's poor performance in sports.

And it is probably why India has made an impact on the world map more as a country which has produced more software professionals, doctors, engineers etc. rather than as a nation of sportsmen.

A few English Premier League teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have initiated some talent hunt schemes in India

Before a Cricket World Cup win in 1983, India's other major sporting victory was in 1975 when the national field hockey team won the World Cup.

With the beginning of European countries' domination in hockey, Indian Cricket World Cup triumph in 1983 gave the nation something new to cheer for.

Cricket picked up the pace in India and world class players like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar helped in boosting the popularity of game.

The kind of attention cricketers got and their celebrity status meant that budding young sporting talent moved towards cricket.

Football, on the other hand, was a once popular game but has now fallen into a vicious cycle.

It needs funds to attract the talent and popularise the sport, but to attract sponsors they need a team with which the sponsors would like to associate themselves.

Indian national football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia
India's captain Bhaichung Bhutia is well-known - as a reality TV contestant

It could have been very different.

While India has never played in the World Cup finals, in 1950 the country did actually manage to qualify - but withdrew at the last minute because it was too expensive to travel to the competition in Brazil.

It has never since come close to qualifying again - and currently sits 133rd in the Fifa world rankings behind the likes of Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Yemen.

All these factors would suggest that Indian interest in the World Cup would be low, but that is far from the case.

Being absent from the global stage means fans are free to pick and choose which ever teams they want.

The Indian football obsession is to the extent that people are awake for late nights to watch matches and support their favourite teams.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) formed in 1937

The AIFF joined Fifa in 1948

National team is coached by former Fulham midfielder Bob Houghton

I-League formed in 2007 in an attempt to professionalize domestic football

The current season's top ten goalscorers include only one Indian player, Mohammed Rafi

Also contested is the Santosh Trophy, a knock-out competition between states and government institutions

Meanwhile, online, networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have seen some of the top Bollywood stars adding their thoughts on events in South Africa.

Bollywood star Sharukh Khan was supporting Germany. Heartbroken, he tweeted: "Germany my team lost...feel bad taking my lil ones to matches where our team loses..."

In restaurants and offices you can find people discussing vuvuzelas and the issue of Jabulani ball - and, as in much of the world, the 'psychic' predictions of Paul the Octopus have captured the imagination of India as well.

The interest in the World Cup has been to the extent that the timing of organising Asia Cup cricket in Sri Lanka in third week of June was also questioned. Despite good performances by India, the TV viewership was affected by the football.

For years, Indians were huge fans of Brazil - until they fell for Diego Maradona in 1986.

Indian supporters were then divided between Brazil and Argentina. The division was again evident this time in eastern state West Bengal and southern state Kerala, where people generally use wall paintings, posters and banners to show their support.

But, as Brazil and Argentina went out of the finals, Indian fans had to choose between the two finalists - Netherlands and Spain.

In years to come, it is hoped that Indian football fanatics will not have to make such a choice, instead being able to support their own nation.

An Indian football fan gets a special haircut
Traditionally, Indian fans have supported Brazil or Argentina

A few English Premier League teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have initiated some talent hunt schemes in India - a sign that the nation may yet produce some world class footballing talent.

But there is still a long way to go.

If you ask a common man about national team of football, at the most they would remember the team captain Baichung Bhutia's name but even he would have to thank his victory in a dance reality show for this.

And the national competition - the I-League - has failed miserably to attract attention.

But in a bid to improve the condition of football in India, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last year announced to give 250 million rupees (around $5m) to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) over the next five years.

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see also
India reveals football goal
05 Feb 07 |  Football
What's holding back Indian football?
30 Jul 04 |  World Football
Indian tour ends on high
29 Jul 00 |  Football

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