Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 18
How Indian football fans wish their team played in the FIFA World Cup? Will that day ever come? No one knows, but rest assured, there is no hope anytime soon. It sounds disheartening but the Indian fans would be aghast to know that 64 years ago India qualified, but did not play.
Yes, India qualified for the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil but spurned the offer to play. The official reason cited by All India Football Federation (AIFF) was ‘disagreements over team selection, and insufficient practice time’.
There are many myths associated with why India missed the opportunity.
Myth No. 1: AIFF felt that the Indian stars, who were used to playing barefoot, would be outclassed by stronger opponents as wearing footwear was mandatory under FIFA rules. It could have marred Indian football team’s rising stature after the 1948 London Olympics where they narrowly lost to France 1-2.
Myth 2. Paucity of foreign exchange and the long journey by ship are said to be the other reasons for the pull-out. Myth 3. India was not used to playing 90-minute matches. Before 1970, India’s domestic tournaments were of 70-minute duration.
The reality could be somewhere in between. First, India had attained Independence only around three years earlier and was not sure of making such a big investment for just participation. Back then, FIFA World Cup was not as glamourous and its universal appeal and popularity were not as much as today.
Second, AIFF officials were more keen on Olympics and 1951 Asian Games, to be held in New Delhi. Third, there were apprehensions that playing in the FIFA World Cup would brand India’s players as professional, thereby leaving them ineligible for the Olympics.
The question then arises, was the Indian football team then strong enough to rub shoulders with the powerhouses of football? Not exactly. The second World War had just finished and only 33 countries signed up for the qualifiers; now there are 200 countries. There were no continental qualifiers in those days. FIFA did not have a ranking system then. India was grouped with Burma and Philippines in the qualifiers, and both countries withdrew, leaving India as automatic qualifiers. In the final round, India was placed in Pool III with Sweden, Italy and Paraguay, but sadly India withdrew at the last minute, leaving FIFA fuming. The football’s world governing body did not accept AIFF’s entry in the subsequent edition (1954) and the cold war between the two bodies persisted for the next three decades. Kapadia’s book ‘The Football Fanatic’s Essential Guide’ notes an interesting bit, “hosts Brazil offered India to play in the World Cup because they wanted to feature the team from the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru to make the event more representative. They even offered to pay most of the expenses. The Brazilian organizers contacted AIFF twice in March and April 1950.” However, it was not to be. Finally, it was reduced to a 13-team tournament. The Indian football not only missed an opportunity to feature in the FIFA World Cup in 1950, it nipped the growth of the game then and there.
Only eight months ago, India hosted the U-17 FIFA World Cup and the state of affairs is such that the Indian football team captain is begging fans to come and watch the team play at home.
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