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4 Things India Needs To Qualify For FIFA 2022

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Believe it or not, there was a time when India was actually pretty good at football. In the 1948 Summer Olympics, the first time India competed as an independent country, India played against France, stayed tied with them 1-1 until the 70th minute and ended up losing 2-1. This may not sound like a big deal, but it was, especially because most of the Indian team members played barefoot. Then in 1950, India qualified for the FIFA World Cup. However, we couldn’t compete barefoot, didn’t have enough practice time and didn’t have a final squad, so we had to withdraw from the competition. In 1951, we won football gold in the Asian Games, five years later we came 4th in the Summer Olympics and then, we won gold again in the 1962 Asian Games. We also came second in the AFC Asian Cup in 1964.  But it was all downhill from there. We haven’t been placed in any of these tournaments since and apart from the 1950 qualification, we’ve never been able to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

So, what will it take for Indian football to go back to its 1950s and 60s glory days?

1. More Tournaments

To truly develop their skills and talent, the one thing sportsmen need is practice, not only training but also competing. In the 1950s, India had a variety of tournaments like the Durand Cup, the Stafford Cup, the Santosh Cup and the Federation Cup, keeping our footballers busy throughout the year. More tournaments meant more players had the opportunity to hone and showcase their talents and this increased their chances of making it to the national team. It also increased the quality of football in the country. But today, we only have the Indian Super League and the Hero I-League, both fairly recent. If you don’t play in either of these, you probably won’t get the attention you need to succeed in Indian football, regardless of your talent. Furthermore, other than a once-a-year competition, we don’t have any youth leagues set up for under 13 and under 17 players. This means they don’t compete around the year and can’t develop as players by getting match time. This is important in promoting talent to the big clubs of the country and giving everyone an opportunity to flourish.

2. More Money

‘Astro Turfs’ may be popping up all over Mumbai, ‘infrastructure’  for people to play as long as they can shell out around ₹500 for a couple of hours. But that’s a lot of money for someone who needs to play at least 20 hours a week or more in order to match international or even national standards of the sport. And that’s just Mumbai, what about the rest of the country? So where infrastructure is concerned, India still lacks considerably; we desperately need more grounds. For a sport as big as football, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) doesn’t even have a national training centre.

When hosting tournaments, they have to look for suitable venues across the country, none of which are exclusively used for football. Even the six stadiums that were prepped for when India hosted the 2017 Under-17 FIFA World Cup are stadiums that are shared with other sports as well.

Praful Patel, the Chief of the AIFF says it’s mainly because football as a sport doesn’t receive the funding it needs to flourish. The AIFF’s developmental unit, the Pailan Arrows were disbanded due to lack of financial commitment. Most of the funding comes from CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives when the government should be taking a more active role in encouraging this sport by financing it. Recently, India bid to host the Under-20 FIFA World Cup but lost the bid. Winning such a bid would have meant a lot of funding and infrastructure for Indian football, but the fact that we bid at all at least shows that there is a will to augment the sport in the country.

3. More Attention

According to Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA, India is particularly a ‘sleeping giant’ of international football. The reason Sepp Blatter of FIFA used the words ‘sleeping’ giant is because he recognised the untapped potential our country has specifically in the sport of football. After cricket, football is the second most popular sport in terms of spectators. In the last ten years, the number of Indians that watch football tournaments on television has skyrocketed. The interest among young Indians is high and valuable enough that India’s sports channels to show the English Premier League, the Spanish and French Leagues and the Champions League live.

Sadly, only the Indian Super League is broadcasted in India because it’s the only league we have. Clearly, the interest among youth Indians is very much there, however, the attention required to turn this interest into skill and talent is nowhere to be found. While infrastructure is important to cultivate talent, it’s still secondary to actually bringing attention to the sport. For example, African and Latin American nations which are famous for their football teams, lack infrastructure just like we do, but they still produce world-class players because the sports still gets attention, culturally and from the government, which encourages players from low-income to play anywhere, even on the streets. And in the land of gully cricket, street football is not that much of a stretch.

4. More Role Models

For any sport to develop, the youth has to be encouraged to take up that sport, and for that, they need role models. Back in the 1950s, football players in India had a massive fan following in their places of origin and the stadiums overflowed with spectators during the games. However, today every child wants to be the next Tendulkar or Kohli. And that’s mainly because cricketers are put in the limelight long enough for them to become role models. But football fame is only found in some parts of the country. It is popular in the Northeast, Goa, Kerala and West Bengal, not in the Hindi heartland. This difference can be seen in the Indian team too. The players are mostly from the areas that are mentioned above. There is Fernandes, Borges, Gurung, and Khongjee but no Sharma or Kohli. If the sport is not encouraged in all parts of the country, children won’t be able to identify and relate to the players and be encouraged to take up the sport.

Individual sports like shooting, weightlifting, wrestling, tennis, badminton, and boxing (where most of our international successes have come) have loads of role models like Saina Nehwal, P.V Sindhu, Narain Karthikeyan, Abhinav Bindra and Vijender Singh. But other than cricket (which is a start-stop sport and not one where the entire team is always engaged in play), no team sports in India have adequate role models. Since they don’t even get endorsement deals, they’re not seen often enough to inspire the country’s youth.

Former India Captain Baichung Bhutia and current Captain Sunil Chhetri have both risen to become household names. After the 2017 football season, Chhetri managed to maintain a better goal to appearance ratio than Ronaldo and Messi by averaging 0.58 goals per game. In spite of these records, they do not nearly get the limelight that they deserve. They could serve as great role models to the next generation of aspiring footballers.

Football is only the tip of this iceberg. India’s infrastructure and landscape for all sports is severely lacking. Even when it comes to competing in the Olympics, India’s athletes don’t have access to basic training facilities, sporting associations are grossly underfunded, and government policies to fix these problems are duplicated and unfocused, and therefore don’t result in any concrete changes. India’s sports activities have a long way to go before we aim to qualify for the next FIFA World Cup.

Watch the video below to understand what makes India a “sleeping” Olympics giant.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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