Fifa president Joseph Sepp Blatter and Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed Bin Hammam (Photo above from their Colombo visit. Source: FIFA website) are on a visit to India. On their first stop in Kolkata they went to the three top football clubs- Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting- all located on Kolkata Maidan, the largest green stretch of the city. The also watched the big match between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal on Sunday at Salt Lake Stadium.
As it is expected in such a tour, it is filled with feel-good moments, making dreams of taking Indian football to the next generation and an intention to create a roadmap for the same. But in a stark contrast to that Hammam and Blatter did not mince words and pointed to us the pathetic condition of the sports infrastructure here in Kolkata. To the embarassment of the national and state level and club officials Hammam said given the current infrastructure Indian football will take another hundred years for India to play the World Cup. He was not far from truth. Just to think of Salt Lake Stadium, our prized asset and Asia's largest stadium with a capacity of 1 lakh spectators, it has never been overhauled since it was built more than two decades ago. I remember due to this a few years back the ground became unplayable after just a few showers. Blatter said in his next stop in Delhi that Mohun Bagan Club, to him, looked exactly from the same time it was founded, that is in the 19th century, so pathetic is its condition with a dingy players' room, an old-fashioned gym and an unkempt canteen with broken seats.
Officials, just out of the rude shock, wasted no time in starting the blame game, something they play way better than our footballers play the sport. According to club officials little can be done as Maidan is an Army property. Well, what prevented them so far to try to fend for themselves in the long history of their clubs? Couldn't they look for other places to build their own stadiums, however low-profile they might be? Anjan Mitra, Mohun Bagan secretary said their members would sue the club if subscription rates were hiked. This sounds like a lame excuse. In a state whose citizens created a record in donating blood to raise funds for a power project in Bakreshwar, where the big achievers among the sons of the soul are passionate about football, would raising funds for a halfway-decent stadium be as difficult as it can get? Yes, the state govt. can't shirk responsibilities, what with the same sports minister around for 25 years.
I am sure not much will change with this visit, but we will remember this tight slap. We will possibly take note of the fact that football cannot move ahead only with passion, it needs sincerity of all stakeholders and organisation skills of the highly placed individuals.