With the 2010 FIFA World Cup set to kick-off in a few days the question will again come around. Why isn't India playing in South Africa? And it seems to be a question which only returns to the conscience of the general Indian public every four years when the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet is around.
Articles are written about it, debates are held on television and radio, the general public would love to see India play in a football World Cup, but all this is forgotten once the tournament is over then a lot of hard work needs to put into Indian football for us to one day qualify for a football World Cup.
And for this there doesn't seem to be enough patience amongst the Indian public. They want success, if possible immediately and India should be able to compete against the best in the business like we do in other team sports like cricket and hockey. But what is often forgotten is that football is the only global sport with 208 nations and territories as members in FIFA with another dozen countries and territories wanting to be part of the global football family. This highlights how difficult it actually is to qualify for a football World Cup with the qualifiers in Asia amongst the toughest with only four direct spots available amongst 46 Asian nations.
But also simply put at the moment we are not good enough to play amongst the best 32 teams in the world. And then there are many other nations who should qualify to be amongst this global elite especially countries from Europe and South America, while others like North Korea are there but need to prove if they can compete at this level. And actually North Korea isn't that much better then our Indian national team, still with all their political problems they made it to South Africa. And hats of for that achievement.
India hasn't played in a football World Cup and we haven't qualified for it, but still we were invited to one. In 1950 FIFA invited India to be play in the World Cup played in Brazil. The world football governing body was willing to pay for the flights and it would have been Delhi via Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro tickets with KLM. But the then AIFF administration decided against sending a team as FIFA made it mandatory in 1950 to wear football boots. Indians in those days used to play barefoot and such a change would have hampered the teams performance. At least it is the thinking which was prevalent amongst the authorities. The players weren't asked and the AIFF declined the invitation. A blunder which still haunts us today. Had we participated then we could today at least say, we have taken part in the 1950 World Cup. Plus in those days football wasn't as competitive as it is today, so India might have pulled off the one or the other surprise. And who knows where our football might be today. We might have taken a similar route like Brazil did in the following years and we would be amongst the best in the world.
Sorry was dreaming a little. Still it shows what one mistake can do. Now we need to rectify it, either we qualify for a football World Cup or organise one in 20 odd years. Lets see which route Indian football takes...