Nehru Cup, like many sporting events planned between now and next year, is considered to be a precursor to 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
Those who witnessed yesterday's Nehru Cup final between India and Syria would be amazed at the frenzy sports can kick-up in India. Nehru Cup is India's only international football event that is recognized by FIFA. India retained the cup by defeating Syria 5-4 in sudden death penalty shoot outs.
Football is not the most popular sports in India. It comes close second to cricket only in some parts of eastern India and may be Goa. There is hardly any fan following for the game anywhere else in the country. Cricket takes up biggest slice of sports pages in Indian tabloids. India's National Football League has taken off and failed to take off many times, finding it difficult to garner tournament sponsors.
Also, for a fact.. India is ranked 156th on FIFA's list of countries. So what is about a tournament like Nehru Cup that invites so much attention..!! Every seat in the ground was occupied with some of Bollywood stars making appearance as well for the final match. To top it all, as soon as India's goalkeeper Subrata Paul saved the last kick to clinch the title, he had to think about running for his life. Next 10 minutes saw thousands of fans running onto the pitch to touch and hug their 'stars' whom they would not have recognized a day earlier. Such was the state of deliriousness that police had to resort to action to send back the crowd to stands. However, even policemen did not have heart to drag Indian's fans holding Indian tri-color high and running around the ground.
So what has changed with this victory..!! Well practically nothing as India were the defending champions. They had defeated Syria in 2007 edition as well. Even the response matched the action after 2007 final. A person unaware of Indian sports culture will find the intervening silence mysterious and deafening.
The final match of Nehru Cup revealed a huge crowd of pot-bellied fans who seems to be totally devoid of options (apart from Cricket), and who would turn up if India can put up a good show in any sports. So what if we are ranked 156th in the world...!!
Such is the hunger and need to celebrate that joy of defeating 95th ranked Syria will by-pass any other celebrations on a football field in last one year.
So will the fans stay with the sports. The answer is NO. That can only happen if the babus controlling the sports allow people and sports person to survive on a pitch. The expectations are not great. Indian football captain revealed in an interview few weeks back is that all he expects after a good match is to be able to stand under a shower. Same is with the fans... all they need is access to drinking water so as to keep them going with chants for the country. However, this seems to be an irrational request for any sportsperson other than cricketer. No wonder that we are ranked beyond relegation zone. Innumerable pages and articles have been written about the state of sports in India. However, there is a conspiracy of silence amongst those who matters and who control the game. Indian Sports minister was seen yawning towards the end of the game (See the footage of the match) as his bed time was getting closer (it was not even 2130 hrs India time). All that seemed important was for the minister to make an appearance along with another minister.
We wonder who is invading the pitch...!! The fans or the babus..!!!!!!