Ranbir Kapoor’s Pepsi ad is amusing at best. The dismissive tone by Ranbir Kapoor at the start, when he mocks the kid for playing football, exemplifies the stereotypical Indian mindset towards football as a sport. To support his point, Ranbir further adds that cricket is a “gentleman’s sport” and encourages the kid to become a man by playing cricket. However, as if to refute his opinion, the machine refuses to dispense a bottle of Pepsi. The young kid, who till then is quietly enduring Ranbir’s badgering, smiles derisively and uses his head, literally, to get the bottle, and tells Ranbir to play football at times. After all, it is handy occasionally.
The ad, obviously intended to promote sales and business, also takes a stand on sports as they are perceived in India, and poses a question that would only be answered with time. Promotion of football in India, especially by such large entities – PepsiCo and Ranbir Kapoor – at such a magnitude, is unprecedented. That is why this advertisement serves a purpose greater than mere publicity and business promotion.
Football in India has always taken the back seat. As a matter of fact, so have all the sports, including hockey, in which India has won eight Olympic gold medals, reigning supremacy from 1928, when it won its first Olympic gold medal, to 1956, when it won its sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal. Despite such a glorious history, hockey in India is in shambles today.
Football also closely follows suit. India ranked at a meek 158 in FIFA’s World Ranking of March 2012. In the 1950 FIFA World Cup, in which India progressed because other Asian teams withdrew, the Indian team did not go to the tournament in Brazil because of issues such as cost of travel, lack of practice time, team selection and the refusal of Indian players not to play barefoot. Since then, India has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. What’s worrying is that despite having reached the group stages of the most prestigious World Cup in the world, India could not attend because of issues that could have been resolved by stronger governance, due attention to the sport and financial backing to provide the requisite infrastructure. Having lost the only opportunity to make a mark on the global stage, India never again managed to make it to the World Cup.
Even in Asia, India’s best result in the AFC Asian Cup was in 1964 when India finished as Runners-up. In recent years, the highest achievement in this tournament has been a first round exit. To add to this saga of misery, India has not more than five stadia that match up to the standards put forth by FIFA and AFC. Ironically, the largest democracy in the world, the seventh-largest geography in the world and the second most populous nation in the world has only five stadia worth playing football in.
On the one hand, Lionel Messi, an Argentine playing at Barcelona, Spain, is breaking records not just in Spanish football, but in global football, with a frequency greater than that of scandals getting exposed in India. Such an environment that allows an ‘outsider’ to Europe, to prosper and flourish is directly contradicted in India, where a local player is, in most cases politically, financially and circumstantially, snubbed from pursuing a career in football.
The primary reason for people not to pursue football is not that people cannot play football. It is that the sport has received much less infusion of talent and governmental assistance as compared to cricket. Poor infrastructure, lack of sponsors, lack of viewers act as strong deterrents towards football as a profession.
If you don’t believe me, try naming 10 footballers from India who play in the finest leagues of the world. Or name 10 Indian footballers who play in the I-League, India’s version of professional football.
Food for thought, isn’t it?
But wait, this isn’t over. Read the second part of this post on India, Pepsi’s initiative and the treatment of football in India.