FIFA U-17 World Cup: Unfair to place the burden of Indian football on these young shoulders

October 6, 2017

FIFA U-17 World Cup


For a few weeks, India’s under-17 football squad under Amarjit Singh Khiyam’s leadership will hold our attention, succeeding in wooing some fans away from the Messis and the Ronaldos who are plying their trade in the European leagues. But this team, the first Indian outfit to figure in a FIFA World Cup at any level, could well be feeling as if it is a shipload of explorers.

It is unfair to place the burden of getting India to leap-frog as a football nation on these young shoulders. It would be ideal if they are just allowed to go out and express themselves on the pitch in the three league games that they will play. This squad will only be a reflection of how an elite bunch can progress as individuals and as a team with the right impetus.

It’s really wonderful to see the kind of exposure that the current under-17 players have got in the run-up to the World Cup. Four continents, 14 countries. Surely, the 20 lads – and some others who were in the reckoning — will have benefited immensely from the training and competitive exposure. That will make them prize-catches for league teams.

The backdrop of expectations that this team will inspire India to become a football nation yet again can be overwhelming. One swallow never made a summer, did it? Without a firm roadmap, even the Indian women’s cricket team has been unable to build on the perceptions that it created by entering the final of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup at Lord’s earlier this year. The Board of Control for India is still only considering a Future Tours Programme for the women’s team.

The key for football evolution in the country lies in providing such exposure to teams of the future too. If that does not happen, this investment would be less than useful from a larger perspective in the long-term. This bunch will then have to carry the torch well past age-group football. If the assembly line isn’t ready, there will be no reinforcements of similar, if not better, quality.

As an eternal optimist, I do not want to be a naysayer. However, the ground realities and our general approach to sport makes me smile when I read or hear that the FIFA U-17 World Cup football will spark a revolution in the country. And there is a historical reason for such doubts to surface again.

We have always come up short when it comes to legacy planning. As a nation, we are known to live in the moment but not make the most of the legacy created by such events. We allowed the Asian Games in 1982 and the Commonwealth Games in 2010 become just memories by not building on the sporting and infrastructural gains.

If building infrastructure alone were enough for the country to progress as a sporting nation, each of the National Games venues will have thrown up scores of elite athletes across various disciplines. We lack a sporting ethos that encourages the young across the country to take to competitive sport, and one in which own athletes are the central focus of our attention.

Sadly, even those who are well-versed with such failures have chosen to market the staging of the FIFA U-17 World Cup football as a watershed moment in Indian sport. The FIH Hockey World Cup in 2010 did precious little to infuse enthusiasm beyond the transient in the country which places great emphasis on national teams doing well.

To be fair, the All India Football Federation has made some ambitions plans to keep this bunch together is concerned. But they need to be executed well for India to begin the journey of regaining lost ground as a team that counted, at least in Asian football, sooner than later. But the odds on a nation of fans slipping away towards the Messis and the Ronaldos will be very high.

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