Rediff Navigator Sports
Information Entertainment Online

Beneath the box office lurks hidden danger

K Bhaskaran

The last few years, Indian football has played to such sparse crowds that the organisers may have forgotten how to handle situations created by a ceaseless flood of spectators towards the gates. The semi-final between India and Iraq in the Eider Nehru Cup series at Kochi last April highlighted this.

Apparently there was no control on the sale of tickets at the stadium, as also in the various districts of the state. In the bargain, not only were holders of genuine tickets unable to gain entry, but also there were counterfeit tickets and gate-crashing into the venue. Understandably, Iraq and the match officials from abroad were apprehensive and reluctant to take the field. They were persuaded to, and fortunately there was nothing untoward to spark off an explosion.

This was thanks to the reputation crowds in Kerala have established over the years for their appreciation of good play from whoever it may flow, and for exemplary good behaviour. Organisers of tournaments have been banking on this to rake in the rupees.

But this is something that the All-India Football Federation and the Indian Football Association (the controlling body of West Bengal) cannot. For the history of the game in Calcutta has enough instances of violent conduct of players, team officials and supporters in matches between leading teams.

Maybe this was at the back of Amal Dutta's mind when he stressed that a foreign referee must be brought in to supervise last Sunday's Kalyani Black Label Cup semi-final between his team, Mohun Bagan, and arch rivals East Bengal. Dutta feared that no Indian referee, barring Sumanta Ghosh of Calcutta, could be unaffected by the din that will be created by over a lakh of fans and make wrong decisions which could lead to disruptions in play and their consequences.

In the event, FIFA referee Inayatullah from Bangalore kept the match well under his control, including flashing the yellow card to star of the match and the highest paid footballer of the country, Baichung Bhutia, when he gestured to the crowd after scoring one of his three goals in the 4-1 victory.

To the good luck of the AIFF and the IFA, the match was in a domestic competition, and in such cases the Asian Football Confederation and the Federation Internationale de Football Association generally do not interfere. And also to the good luck of the AIFF and the IFA, nothing untoward happened before, during or after the match.

Had anything happened, the AIFF and the IFA could have been in a pretty pickle and facing heavy sanctions from both the AFC and the FIFA. For, following the tragedies at the European Cup final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, the F.A. Cup semi-final at Hillsborough and an English Third Division match at Bradford, all in 1986, and incidents in World Cup qualifying matches in 1989-90, FIFA has been more strict in its vigil to maintain the good name of the sport.

Again, had there been clashes among rival supporters, or a stampede or outbreak of violence over disputed decisions, the AIFF and the IFA would not have been able to absolve themselves in the eyes of the AFC and the FIFA - for the evidence against the former pair would be staggering.

In the fortnight before the semi-final, although East Bengal were yet to play Mohammedan Sporting in the quarter-final and earn the right to play Mohun Bagan next, Amal Dutta, and his counterpart, P K Banerjee (though more restrained), had kindled the fire in the bellies of their respective club fans and probably players as well, with statements about tactics their teams would adopt to be one up in this titantic clash. The atmosphere grew more and more tense as the match day approached. Tickets were sold in black, though the police did its best to dissuade fans from dealing with touts.

All this build-up made for Indian football sitting atop an ammunition depot, without much appraatus for rescue work. This is something that the AIFF and the IFA should never have allowed. Especially as the AIFF president, Mr Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, based in Calcutta, is ever ready to take recourse to the guidelines and advice of the AFC and the FIFA even in the matter of entertaining teams for domestic competitions, like the one under discussion, namely the Kalyani Black Label Cup.

It is to be wondered what would have happened if the AIFF, in a weak moment, reacted to Amal Dutta's suggestion that a foreign referee must be given charge of the match. And if the foreign referee, as Dutta wished, was a strict, unyielding man, the semi-final may not have taken place. For clearly, there were more people in the Salt Lake Stadium than the maximum meant to be accommodated when it was newer and in better condition. Instead of the maximum capacity of 1,20,000, there were 1,31,781. And the precise number mentioned by press reports lends belief that the figures had been given officially.

Which means that knowingly, the AIFF and the IFA had allowed nearly 12,000 people more for the highly tense semi-final, an unpardonable excess. The attendance set two records. One for the highest turn-out for any match, not only in India but also anywhere in Asia, and maybe anywhere in the world save for the matches at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The other record is for the callous dereliction of duty by the AIFF and the IFA, particularly when set against the determined efforts of the world body to eliminate factors that would endanger the safety of the spectators at stadia.

E-mail Mail the Sports Editor

Home | News | Business | Cricket | Movies | Chat
Travel | Life/Style | Freedom | Infotech

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved