FIFA U-17 World Cup puts India on the footballing world map

Far & Near column published in the Hindustan Times, 6 October, 2017

As somebody who loves football, I have always been a bit envious of people who can look forward to following their country at a World Cup. I was in Germany in 2006 when the World Cup was staged there. I joined throngs of Trinidadian “Soca Warriors” in Nuremburg, watched Angolans pray in the main cathedral in Cologne, and got swamped by a horde of Australians in Berlin. There is a carnival-like atmosphere to the tournament, which like a great fair doubles as a gathering of peoples. It didn’t matter that I had no representatives among the teams in Germany, I could still share in the joy of others.

In Frankfurt, we ran into two young men draped in Indian flags. They were actually British Indians, and with typically wry English humour they revealed why they were flying the Tricolour across Germany: “This is the only way India will ever get to the World Cup,” they laughed.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have something more than vicarious access to the passions of a football World Cup. It’s a pleasure to watch India win cricketing competitions, but the realm of cricket – inflated by the sheer numbers of the Indian subcontinent – is fairly provincial compared to football. I long for the elusive day that I might see India reach football’s truly international centre-stage.

At the time of writing, India had yet to play its inaugural game in the U-17 World Cup, in which our young talent took on the best of the United States. Even as hosts, India goes into the tournament as decided underdogs. Whatever India manages to accomplish on the field is secondary to what it seeks to gain in stature by hosting this youth competition. The U-17 World Cup puts India in a place it hasn’t been for years: on the footballing world map.

I hope that galvanises more investment, better coaching, training, and scouting for youth players, and more opportunities for local footballers to pursue meaningful careers in the sport. I also hope it wins the national football team even a portion of the support lavished upon India’s celebrity cricketers.

Read the rest of the piece on the Hindustan Times

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