Shailesh Kapoor: FIFA World Cup: Patriotism With A Twist

13 Jun,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


The Football World Cup kicked off last night in Brazil. The month-long tournament is the only sporting event besides the Olympics that truly unites sports fans across the world. All other sports have their catchment areas, but soccer is the world’s favorite sport by a safe distance.


All that being said, the craze for the FIFA World Cup in India amuses me every four years. Yes, football is the second most popular sport in India after cricket. Both television ratings and consumer research show that besides WWE-style wrestling entertainment, no other sport has the potential to challenge football’s number two position over the next decade in India.


So my amusement is not so much about the following or viewership of the World Cup. That is logical and even expected. My amusement is about following of specific teams.


Every four years, we see news footage and newspaper stories about fans of certain teams, often the ‘third-world’ teams such as Brazil and Argentina, gathering at public places in India to watch World Cup games. These “fans” can give local fans of the respective nations a run for their money. They wear the team colours, know their team inside out and some even carry the nation’s flag on them.


How does an Indian, who has virtually no interest in nation-vs-nation football for four years, become an ardent fan of a soccer-playing national team? There is no rational explanation to this bizarre phenomenon. But we are not the most rational country in the world, are we?


I have two hypotheses. The first one says that the choice to support a team is to spice up the viewing of the World Cup. So you first take the decision “I must watch the Football World Cup”. The reasons for that could range from entertainment to social expectations. You then wonder: “Now that I’m watching the World Cup, I must decide whom I am supporting”. Making a favorite team choice is critical because it would create higher engagement with the tournament, and also create volatile water cooler conversations at office.


The second hypothesis is about the choice of the team itself. Most Indians tend to go for Brazil traditionally, for the strong third-world or brown-skin connect, I believe. Argentina has been a strong second favorite. The post-colonial effect ensures most European teams are ignored, though the ones that are not-so-British (such as Spain) have found some traction over time.


These choices having been made, the real amusement lies in the journey over the month of the World Cup. From being a forced fan to a natural fan can be some transition. But we Indians can make that transition within days, even hours. From “I choose to support Brazil” to “I love Brazil” to “Brazil BrazilBrazil” is a quick turnaround.


And if your chosen team indeed loses, you can behave as if the world has come crashing down. Though I suspect the hurt would last far shorter than that of India losing the final of a Cricket World Cup, a la 2003.


So, be prepared for bleary-eyed colleagues in your office for the next one month, behave like they were born and brought up in Argentina (or Brazil), and that Maradona (or Pele) is the biggest influence on their lives. And if you spot some foreign-looking flags on the streets, just remind yourself that you are still in India!


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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