The future of Indian football: Tapping the diaspora?

The Doha Asian games, saw an Indian football drawing Hong Kong, barely beating the Maldives, and then crashing out to Iran.
Iraq, with its violence and kidnapping and murder of many of its key football officials, finds a place in the quarterfinals. Sending the Indian team to Doha was done at AIFF (All India Football Federation) expense as the Sports Ministry of India had not cleared them to go. Football was identified as a sport that India did not stand a chance to medal in. Bizarrely, for Priya Ranjan Das Munshi these are all portents that India is going to qualify for the World Cup in 2010. The one thing that Das Munshi has learned as AIFF president all these years is that as a politician, always promise but never deliver them.
In this world of globalization, with respect to technology, the Indian government and the private sector have done a smart thing and have tapped into the vast amounts of skilled manpower that India has sent abroad. The gradual dismantling of the license raj has created the conditions for diasporic Indians to invest and many instances even comeback to India. In turn, this has encouraged foreign companies to set up shop in India. A more recent trend shows a number of foreign students spending their internships in companies like Infosys.
Similar opportunities exist with regards to football with the diasporic Indians. This has not been explored in any organized fashion. Raj Prohit’s Sapphire Enterprises, the company that was responsible for bringing Baichung Bhutia to Bury in 1999, organized the first tour of the Indian national team in 2000 to England, where they played Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, and Bangladesh. This was ostensibly to highlight the popularity of football in India and to give the national team experience and exposure. Subsequent tours also saw the Indian team play other first and second division clubs as well as Jamaica. The subtext in these tours was to promote racial equality in the UK based diasporic communities but in effect it was also to sell India. As Paul Dimeo writes, ” A later development of these tours was to promote the idea of India as a home.” In doing so, the idea was to establish links between the NRI (Non Resident Indian) community and India that would see exchanges of coaches and and players, and the future possibility of including NRI’s in the Indian team.
In theory, a very feasible idea and one that should be given serious consideration. Imagine at some point of time having players of the calibre of Vikash Dhorasoo, Michael Chopra, Aman Dosanjh, Aaron Winter, Harpal Singh, Rajinder Singh Virjee, and Prince Rajcomar representing India. As in the case of Jamaica and more recently Trinidad and Tobago that have built successful squads around diasporic players. With India, a player like Vikash Dhorasoo would be assured of playing all 90 minutes, instead of fighting for minutes in Les Bleus with its surfeit of talent in the midfield positions with Zidane, Govou, Wiltord, Vieira, Makelele, and Ribery. A perceived lack of opportunity playing for England led to Zesh Rehman, the ex-Fulham midfielder’s decision to switch allegiance to Pakistan in 2005.
However, Dimeo brings up an excellent point suggesting that Sapphire Enterprises noble and lofty ideals were nullified by Raj Prohit’s overtly commercial enterprise, which is not surprising, as they are a for profit company. The matches were fairly expensive to watch and were marketed to British Asians, excluding the “whites’ who the organizers felt would not be interested. The Indian players movements off the field were tightly regulated, they were refused access to schools and community clubs, that would have lent credence to Sapphire’s message of ‘community building.’ The result is that the effect of these tours in promoting Indian football and racial diversity have been miniscule. On the other hand, the AIFF imprimatur of these tours and its publicity have led Prohit and now Arunava Chaudhuri, a German based NRI, and the owner of the web portal indiafootball.com who has entered the football tour business, to assume that only NRI’s can save the state of Indian football. Jas Bains, author of a very influential 1996 report Asians Can’t Play Football says, “I helped put British Asian football on the map, now I hope to put Indian football on the map.”
The problem lies not so much in these NRI entrepreneurs as they are only exploiting opportunities. It is the AIFF, an enervated institution led by an enervated individual, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. The AIFF has no vision and so these individuals are providing AIFF their version that essentially dismisses the notion that Indians are incapable of developing talent on their own. The panacea to Indian football lies in the wholesale import of PIO (People of Indian Origin) players. This cavalier view has irritated Indian players and sports journalists alike. The failure of the AIFF to provide its own vision has led many others to offer their own. Mohammed Bin Hamman, the AFC president has targeted India as a potentially important Asian contributor to the world’s game. One of his more realistic goals targets the development of local talent. This vision is at odds with the NRI one. However, the AIFF only pays lip service to the development of youth teams which is under the control of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). It does not even provide the SAI with funds, despite having the capital. So the AIFF’s only meaningful interaction lies with these NRI investors. And in fact, Arunava Chaudhuri and Sapphire Enterprises enjoy a cosy and comfortable relationship with the AIFF.
To enter Chaudhuri’s world is to enter a world full of absurdist claims which bolster his argument of PIO participation. Recently, a friendly against Brazil was cancelled. This led Chaudhuri to claim by refusing to play Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka & Co, India have lost out on a wonderful opportunity to entice players of Indian origin. In a November article, explaining why Indian football is in the doldrums, he writes,” In India often instant results are expected, not only in football, but in sports in general.” After 18 years of steady decline in the standards of Indian football under Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, no fan of Indian football expects a miracle turnaround.
I have no problems with PIO players in the Indian team. They should be welcomed. However, having PIO players participate should be done to enhance the Indian team and not to make up its composition. The emphasis should lie in developing local talent whose roots lie in the game in India. This is the only long term sustainable solution. Jamaica is mentioned as a team of diasporic players.
There is a big difference. Jamaica has a sizeable diaspora concentrated mainly in England with which they have had a longer historical association much before independence. The Jamaican diaspora’s emphasis on assimilation through sports is better developed. Players like Robbie Earle representing Jamaica have played in English clubs since the early 80′s. Many maintain a very close relationship with Jamaica. In contrast, the Indian diaspora’s assimilative experience through sports is minimal. They are about 20 years behind their Jamaican counterparts in a sport like football. Furthermore, the Indian diaspora is far more complex, with more tenuous ties to India than the Jamaicans. The PIO idea might develop but it will take a while before we can even expect a few players to come back. Meanwhile, Zesh Rehman’s decision to play for Pakistan reveals that this issue is far more complicated than the rose tinted spectacles with which Chaudhuri seems to view PIO participation.
Update: Priya Ranjan Das Munshi is also the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting. One of his functions is to defend freedom of the press. So does he do better at his full time job than his part time hobby of being the AIFF president? Not according to Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog organization. India has slipped to 120th position behind the Central African Republic, Qatar, Jordan, and even Iraq. Looks like under Das Munshi, India’s press freedom is eroding just like India’s standing in the football world. But then he can claim that he is too busy at both his jobs to do justice to either. Meanwhile we have to watch this incompetent muddle his way through.

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7 comments on “The future of Indian football: Tapping the diaspora?
  1. Hi,
    Am a journalist based in Goa (India), and ninety percent of what I write is (Indian) football. I fully agree with the writer that PIO idea might eventually develop but it will take a while before we can even expect a few players to come back to India. Problem is those outside India think Indian football is cakewalk. Take Ebbie Kodiattu’s case for example. The US-based footballer came for trials but could nto get through. Ditto with Simran Singh (Denmark) and a couple of players from Canada. What we really need is players of real quality. By the way, I dont quite think (Arunava) Chaudhuri and Sapphire Enterprises are in good books with the All India Football Federation. Not too sure about Arunava — havent been in touch with him for months — not certainly not Sapphire Enterprises. Wonder what happened to all those reports of Sapphire being unable to clear payments of that “historic” Tour of England.

  2. Hi,
    You are correct about developing local talent in India for long term, yes, but it is wrong to say that PIO players will not fit in and are not similar to the Jamaica example.
    Arunava Chaudhari has never said the team must be all PIO’s, he said 1-2 good quality PIO’s can HELP the team not take over. If you look at the facts, India cannot score goals and to win you must score, and in the NFL the clubs like to bring foreign strikers. In this situation having a player like Chopra or Rajcomar will help WIN games. When Japan and Sausi Arabia can score 7 goals against India it is useful to have a defender playing in a European league yes? We want to see India win right?
    Everything else you have said is correct, especially abt the AIFF and youth development, but the coach himself wants PIO players and why not? As long as they can help India win games and we are talking a few PIO’s then it is a good step. You will be surprised how much PIO’s keep their links to India, just like Jamaicans

  3. Hi,
    I agree to everything stated in this article related to Indian Football, but not entirely related to “PIO” for the development of Indian Soccer development.
    It is rightly mentioned that players like Ebbie, Ranvir Singh failed to get selected after joining the Indian Camp for one full month. Simran Singh failed in the selection, after 2 attempts and said plenty of things in press!
    Later soccernetindia.com bought 2 teenagers Umesh Kaushal and Arvind Narayan from Canada, who failed to get selected in Asian Youth Championship in India (Calcutta & Bangalore).
    Arunava is personally known to me, before I migrated in Australia. There is no point of having a huge “eligible PIO’s column” in indianfootball.com, if he cannot help the Indian clubs, by negotiating with any “standard” PIO’s. I have personally seen soccernetindia.com trying their best,to have PIOs to play for Indian clubs.
    It is very much true, with FIFA Ranking 165 in the world, no “good quality PIO” will show interest to play for India! I have known for sure that, Harpal Singh or Michael Chopra will never be interested to play for India! But still we have a chance with Prince Rajcomar (or) Diego Biseswar – till Bob Houghton is the National Coach.
    Recent PIOs in Indian Clubs like Inzumi and Nicholus may not be “very good” to represent Indian squad, based on their recent performance in NFL 2007. But one thing is for sure: We have to go a long way for improvement of our FIFA ranking and focus on youth development, if India have any hope to be regarded a “standard footballing nation” in Asia, at-least!
    - Indranil

  4. Hi,
    I agree to everything stated in this article related to Indian Football, but not entirely related to “PIO” for the development of Indian Soccer development.
    It is rightly mentioned that players like Ebbie, Ranvir Singh failed to get selected after joining the Indian Camp for one full month. Simran Singh failed in the selection, after 2 attempts and said plenty of things in press!
    Later soccernetindia.com bought 2 teenagers Umesh Kaushal and Arvind Narayan from Canada, who failed to get selected in Asian Youth Championship in India (Calcutta & Bangalore).
    Arunava is personally known to me, before I migrated in Australia. There is no point of having a huge “eligible PIO’s column” in indianfootball.com, if he cannot help the Indian clubs, by negotiating with any “standard” PIO’s. I have personally seen soccernetindia.com trying their best,to have PIOs to play for Indian clubs.
    It is very much true, with FIFA Ranking 165 in the world, no “good quality PIO” will show interest to play for India! I have known for sure that, Harpal Singh or Michael Chopra will never be interested to play for India! But still we have a chance with Prince Rajcomar (or) Diego Biseswar – till Bob Houghton is the National Coach.
    Recent PIOs in Indian Clubs like Inzumi and Nicholus may not be “very good” to represent Indian squad, based on their recent performance in NFL 2007. But one thing is for sure: We have to go a long way for improvement of our FIFA ranking and focus on youth development, if India have any hope to be regarded a “standard footballing nation” in Asia, at-least!
    - Indranil

  5. But it’s dificult for PIO players to adjust the Indian style.. Just take Simran Singh?? I saw him in Goa, but he had it hard cause of the weather and food… Hmm.. Indian football is not moving on??

  6. All big Indian companies like Reliance, Bharati, Toyota, Honda etc. should take Soccer as a passion. (Soccer can be a big business in future)Indian Soccer just requires one small push. Should grow along with Economy at pace of 8 to 10%, State & central government to give some incentives to foot ball clubs. I love to see India winning AFC in my life time. Unfortunately dirty cricket killed all games of India.

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