Can South Asia Rise as a Football Superpower? South Asia is home to a significant portion of the global population, but its football presence still needs to be improved.
The region’s football history goes back to the 19th century, during British colonial rule, with India’s Durand Cup recognized as one of the world’s oldest competitions. Despite this, no South Asian country has emerged as a dominant force in global football.
To deal with this and get a full picture of the situation, discussions with players and experts were analyzed to uncover the necessary steps needed for the region to awaken its football potential.
Basically, the path to a South Asian country qualifying for the FIFA World Cup lies in investment, grassroots development, and nurturing local talent. The future of football in the region holds promise if these steps are taken earnestly.
How Prevalent Is Football In South Asia?
In early 2021, Raj Athwal became the first British-born president of Odisha FC, an Indian Super League club. He had previously worked as the commercial director for Watford, Rangers, and Coventry City. During an interview with We News, Athwal expressed his astonishment and revealed his immense passion for football in South Asia. He emphasized the record-breaking attendance numbers at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017, which demonstrated India’s remarkable growth and increasing popularity in the sport.
However, despite cricket’s popularity in India, football has been gaining traction. The national football team’s progress over the past decade, climbing up the world rankings to the top 100, plays a vital role in this shift. Similar to how India’s victory in the 1983 Cricket World Cup transformed the nation’s cricket landscape, the football team’s achievements are expected to drive future growth for the sport in the country. The Indian Super League has played a key role in boosting football’s popularity and attracting a fan base of 350 million during the 2019 season.
Additionally, India made its mark in sports by hosting the men’s U17 World Cup and surpassing previous attendance records. Over 1.3 million enthusiastic fans turned up for the event, solidifying the country’s dedication to football.
Football’s popularity in South Asia, highlighted by Athwal’s appointment as president of Odisha FC, shows the sport’s universal appeal. With India’s growing interest in football, the future looks promising for the sport in the region.
Growing Popularity Of Football In The South Asia
The popularity of a game greatly influences its rise and dominance in the hearts of millions. When we examine patterns over time, football has seen a significant increase in popularity in South Asian regions. Football’s popularity is growing, and it extends beyond major nations like India.
Neighboring Bangladesh has also caught football fever. This was evident when Argentina triumphed in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, resulting in remarkable scenes that went viral worldwide.
The impact was profound. Argentina’s foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bangladesh Football Federation. This agreement promises support for national and age-group teams, coaching assistance, and refereeing assistance.
Even smaller South Asian countries like Bhutan and the Maldives, with a total population of 1.3 million, have shown immense passion for the sport. According to football consultant and journalist Arunava Chaudhuri, people in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal all love football.
Are Indian Players Missing Out?
Indian laws currently prohibit individuals of Indian origin or Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders from representing the country in elite international sports. This means that highly talented football players from overseas who have an Indian heritage may be unable to play for India. Despite differing opinions, Athwal, the president of Odisha FC, believes that if these players can positively contribute to improving the squad, India should welcome them.
He cites examples like Yan Dhanda, who publicly expressed interest in representing India, as a potential addition to the team. Chaudhuri, a former journalist, and ex-head of communications at Mumbai City FC, agrees with Athwal.
He believes that tapping into the talent within the Indian diaspora can accelerate India’s progress to the World Cup. By allowing skilled players of Indian origin to join the national team, India’s rankings and performance could see significant improvements.