LET’S FOOTBALL… FOR REAL PLEASE?

It wasn’t really a shock but nonetheless was a rude one when the news came that Star Sports had decided to cut down the I-League coverage to almost half. All India Football Federation (AIFF) in their press release said that they were informed of the same suddenly by the broadcasters but it only goes on to show how bad the situation of Indian football is right now. AIFF, the football organisation that is supposed to run the game in the country had no idea whatsoever that their “premier league” was not going to get enough TV coverage? Enough said.

First of all, it’s just tough to even believe that they had no idea. Secondly, if they really did have no idea, do they have any control on the game in the country anymore? Or is it just FSDL, ironically named as Football Sports Development Limited. I say ironically because they are doing anything but ‘development’.

It’s all really complicated yes! FSDL, or you can just say a part of IMG-Reliance (a private organisation) , runs the Indian Super League (ISL) — a parallel league to the I-League (parallel because the I-League started earlier than ISL). Yes India actually have two top league running parallel, it’s tougher to even get into the topic of merger or that we run the risk of getting banned by FIFA for parallel leagues with each year of delay.

Coming back to the ISL and FSDL. ISL is that glitzy affair that has little mass and more show. Based on the IPL, it’s the same model. The ISL started in 2014. I’d be honest and say that I followed Indian football more after the ISL began. I had less access to viewing football before that and well even lesser knowledge about it. And so when the ISL began I watched it with much heart. The first itself, as conversation over Indian football grew I came to terms with the I-League. I wasn’t a journalist then and had no idea about the parallel league and bit. All I wanted to do was watch more of Indian football and hence I watched both. As I got into Indian football more and more, I read and read and watched and found I-League clubs richer in asthetics and just generally more exciting. By the time the second season of the ISL came, I waited more for the I-League. As I began reading more and more and then came into the industry, I realised how contrary to portrayal, Indian football’s centre was actually getting rotten. I just saw far more passion and reality in the I-League clubs, and so did people. With stories like Bengaluru FC, Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab FC coming out of the I-League, it received more attention, more public attendances and just generally more love.

Let me give a funny example of how shallow ISL seems sometimes. This is the tournament’s (I call it tournament and not a league) 5th year and they celebrated it and talked about it as if it had completed some 20 years and had done all the ground work and improvement for Indian football. Shallow was the word that struck my head when I saw it. Not that players in the ISL don’t play with passion, players want to play and play at the top and they give their best but somehow ISL just doesn’t excite, I honestly can’t point out why.

On the other hand there’s I-League. After two straight years of remarkable stories in Aizawl and Minerva, they have Real Kashmir FC now. Another deep story that brings out emotions, isn’t that what football is all about. Getting communities up, making sport inclusive and just emotional attachment to clubs? ISL have franchises, I-League have clubs.

All this over the years and rising I-League popularity and now what we are hit with is that we can’t see I-League matches unless we go to the stadium. That’s snatching away our beautiful game. Star Sports also have a stake in the ISL. Anytime you turn the channels on, you’ll see ISL highlights and yet the numbers are meek. Is this why the I-League is being targetted? Forcefully feed the ISL to public.

Well this ain’t 2014. Indian football fans are more and vocal now, which is why the social media has been buzzing with hatred for FSDL, Star Sports and IMG-Reliance for days now. I think it’s time we take ownership of our game and not let it drown into motives.

There are a number of stories in the folklore of football when club followers and fans have brought about massive changes, can it happen now? This cannot die down, we as fans cannot have our game snatched away. We cannot be forced to watch gimmicks in the name of football. The game of football is unadulterated passion and love, it’s just the game.

I don’t know what this article will do, I don’t know if this will make much of a difference but it might just be a voice and I truly believe every voice counts!

As a part of media, I really want to urge every true professional and honest left journalist, don’t look away this is important even if this doesn’t get you numbers or readership or viewers. We are a powerful voice and if we speak in unison, it will make a difference. For all the malign, we are still the fourth pillar of democracy.

I am not saying money (which Reliance are putting and ISL fetched) is not important. It is! But that money is supposed to develop the game and facilitate everything football not kill it!

'Let’s football' is the ISL slogan. Let’s do it for real please?