Whistle Up The World Cup

25 Nov,2022



By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorWe are moved from one World Cup into another. Within a week of the T20 Cricket World Cup final, the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar. So far, it’s been a fairly engaging tournament, though punctuated by four goalless draws on the way. There have already been two big upsets in the first four days, with fancied Argentina and Germany losing to Saudi Arabia and Japan respectively.


The popularity of the sport of football rose in India about 10-15 years ago, as international leagues started getting popular, and a loyal (though niche) fan base started building around specific teams and players. Over the last five years though, the sport seems to have hit some sort of stagnation. In Ormax’s ‘We, The Sports Fans of India’ report, released in April 2022, football has 23.4 million fans in India, and ranks no. 4, just behind kabaddi (28.5 mn) and WWE/ wrestling (26.5 Mn). Cricket, of course, is the dominant leader, at 124.2 Mn.


The way the sport was growing about a decade ago, football should have been a clear No 2, with about 35-40 millions fans, at the very least. One of the impeding factors has been that Indian Super League (ISL), founded in 2013, has failed to fire. The league continues to exist and even get some viewership. But it has not generated fandom for the sport, beyond a handful of states like West Bengal, Goa and Kerala, where the sport has always been big anyway.


In contrast, kabaddi has seen huge build-up of fanbase, starting from virtually nothing, on the back of a vibrant and thriving league. It’s not very difficult to understand why Pro Kabaddi League has been a bigger success than ISL. With exposure to the best of international football, the quality at display in ISL looks mediocre in comparison. And there is no room for mediocre content in a world where we are inundated with options.


The sport one starts watching in one’s teens is often the main sport one watches through the rest of their lives. What one plays (the few who do!) may evolve over the years, but the first choice to watch invariably doesn’t. Football was making inroads on this front, till a few years ago. A new generation of kids in the metro cities would find cricket too slow, and international football became their go-to sport.


Since then, these kids have grown up to be in their 20s, and IPL has grown stronger with each passing year. The gap between cricket and other sports may only be widening now, I suspect.


But that’s a thing of the future. For now, we have another three weeks of what is arguably the biggest global sporting spectacle, and at very friendly India timings too. Relish!


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