Monday, May 21, 2007

kolkata welcomes blatter on a platter




he received a hero's welcome from the football-fanatic crowd of kolkata. he was welcomed on a platter. but then,sepp blatter brought some swiss butter but it was so bitter that sepp blatter added some fresh amul butter to make the bitter butter better.

after the cricket world cup debacle,some serious introspection was required. we seem to be giving undue importance as a nation to cricket at the cost of hockey,football,tennis and other sports. we adulate our socalled cricketing heroes but pay scant attention and give measly appreciation to the exploits of our footballers and hockeyplayers. after all wern't we at the pinnacle of the hockey world in the 50s and won gold medals in olympics? it was some welcome relief to see the president of fifa come over to kolkata, the citadel of football in india. the motivational exercise hopefully would be well worth it.

west bengal,kerala and goa are three of our states where football is extremely popular.when we grew up in kolkata we took a lot of interest in watching the football league matches and the annual ifa tournament.there was even an office league where my dad's company was on top.at home, my eldest brother was a supporter of east bengal while my elder brother backed mohun bagan and i followed rajasthan's fortunes.the mohun bagan vs east bengal match was always an exciting match.once when east bengal lost to mohan bagan due to a last minute goal,my brother fainted in the stands.kolkata is the only city in the world where the stadiums are guarded by mounted police as spectator disruptions could erupt any moment.and those who were not able to find admission into the stadium would watch the match from outside with periscopes! it is a common sight to see baboos with their umbrellas leaving their worplaces around 4pm and heading towards the "maat"(football ground).

where do we stand in football? 165 is our world ranking,behind countries like togo,azerbaijan and ivory coast. even among asian teams we are ranked 34. sepp blatter referred to india as a "sleeping giant" in the world of football. he launched a project called "win in india with india" and also underlined a strategy for the development of this much neglected game. setting a time frame of four years,for improving the professional league,grassroots development,club competitions and then meeting fifa and afc requirements. blatter believes that development must begin from the bottom. just like building a pyramid.fitness level of players and improvements in facilities will have to top the agenda.blatter significantly pointed out that he was not interested in challenging cricket's supremacy but to champion the cause of football.it is the fascination of the game that attracts people all over the world.will the sleeping giant wake up?

while at the mecca of football,he visited mohun bagan,east bengal and mohammedan sporting clubs for a few minutes each. and he later watched a mohun bagan vs east bengal match at salt lake stadium in the presence of about 70,000 cheering spectators. at mohmdn sporting club he told them that they were 116 years old and fifa was junior to them! his visit coincided with the bengali new year.he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the people.he even found time to garland the statue of the legendary goshto pal.the 71 year old swiss said that he was prepared to help but "you should help yourself". a truth well said and bluntly put across to our officialdom. passion is not enough,he added.there will be no progress even in the next 100 years,if we don not go about it in the right way,he said.india has vast potentiality and it must be tapped.don't live on grants, he said. if your brother asks for a fish,don't give him one. instead teach him how to catch it.

blatter met prez abdul kalam and pm manmohan singh in delhi and found them eager to improve the standard of the game.he was impressed that though kalam is a scientist he showed interest in football. he has promised to distribute 10,000 footballs all over the country.traditional dhoti,punjabi and rosogolla followed him in all his felicitations.he was moved by the emotive and passionate kolkattans.but will the sleeping giant wake up? that is a million dollar question.

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