Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The game of the world

Every four years, countries across the world convene in the most prestigious soccer tournament, also known as the “World Cup.” According to estimates, 1.12 billion people watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup final. The 2022 World Cup is expected to pull in 5 billion viewers according to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Organised by FIFA, the tournament, held every four years, was first played in 1930 in Uruguay, and has been contested by 32-teams since the 1998 event. This time 32 teams from various countries and from five football confederations will be competing for the FIFA World Cup 2022. France is the defending champion, having defeated Croatia 4–2 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final. The favourites of FIFA World Cup 2022 are- Brazil (First in FIFA ranking), Argentina (Third in FIFA ranking), France (Fourth in FIFA ranking) and England (Fifth in FIFA ranking). Brazil holds the record for most World Cup wins with five total-in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. Spain, Germany and Belgium are also strong countries that could win the tournament. Italy, the sixth-ranked country in the world, according to FIFA, did not even qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Television channels across the world will be focussed on the FIFA World Cup 2022 at Qatar. This is the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world, and the second World Cup held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan. With the world’s second largest population, many feel India is under-represented in the world’s most popular sport – the national team languishes in 106th spot in FIFA’s rankings with its rankings keep getting worse every year. Why has India, which was on the ascendency in football, fallen to the bottom rank, when other countries like Burkina Faso ranked 55th under FIFA, with 2.15 crore people and less than 2 % of India’s population(125 crore) or Croatia ranked 18 but with hardly 39 lakh people are way ahead? Football in India is not new. In fact, some 100 years ago on July 29,1911, eleven barefoot Indian natives created history by winning a football match. The men wore the green and maroon jerseys of Mohun Bagan and beat a British team called the East Yorkshire Rifles 2-1 to win the IFA Shield. It was the first time an Asian team had beaten any European team to win a football championship. Calcutta was then the Mecca of Indian football and it was also an achievement for people of the north east when Dr.Talimeren Ao led the first Indian Olympic football team at the 1948 London Olympics. Though India qualified in 1950, they have never actually made it to the World Cup. FIFA banned India from participating in the tournament upon learning that the team would not be wearing traditional football boots, and instead, playing barefoot. Since then, India have never qualified for FIFA’s quadrennial showpiece. Indian football can rise if only it is freed from government control, like the BCCI. The Indian Super League(ISL) a joint venture by Reliance Industries Ltd and Star India Ltd under the aegis of All India Football Federation has proved a huge success and is on course. Hopefully the ISL will reawaken ‘ the sleeping giant’, a phrase ex-FIFA president Sepp Blatter used to describe India.

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