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Death strengthens reform call

December 22, 2004 14:01 IST
The death of Brazilian-born striker Cristiano Junior on a soccer pitch this month has highlighted the sorry state of the game in India.

Junior collapsed seconds after scoring his second goal to help Dempo FC beat Calcutta's Mohun Bagan 2-0 in the final of a top club event in Bangalore.

A national uproar ensued, with the media criticising soccer officials for the delay in getting the player to hospital and blaming the rival goalkeeper for cynically hitting Junior on his face as he scored.

The post mortem report said Junior died of cardiac arrest, although his club and his wife, Juliana, wanted a second autopsy before his body was eventually flown home.

Junior's prolific scoring had helped Calcutta's East Bengal to claim their third national league title in April and the tragedy turned the spotlight on everything that was wrong in Indian soccer.

That list can go on and on.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) was blamed for not reining in the offending goalkeeper Subrata Pal earlier, when he pushed down a rival player in a scuffle in another tournament. He was merely asked to explain his conduct.

The AIFF finally suspended him, pending a disciplinary hearing, along with the referee, who was blamed for not promptly calling an ambulance or sending off Pal.

Critics say the incident demonstrated the plight of the game in India and the administration's lack of vision.


India, among the top Asian countries and twice Asian Games champions in 1951 and 1962 in the amateur era, have fallen away while Japan, South Korea, China and the Gulf nations have fully embraced professionalism.

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India are ranked 132 in the world and 24th out of 45
in Asia.

"The only way to change things is to professionalise the administration," said federation secretary Alberto Colaco.

Criticised by an Asian governing body report this year, the federation plans to amend its rules soon to appoint a full-time chief executive to tone up the administration and marketing.

"We've decided to start from the top, so all other things can follow," Colaco said.

Soccer is hugely popular in cricket-crazy India. Major events such as the World Cup, European Championship and the Copa America are broadcast live in the billion-strong country.

ESPN-Star Sports channels even introduced Hindi commentary for Euro 2004 and said it doubled viewership.

Cricket corners almost three-quarters of sports advertising in Asia's fourth largest economy and many feel the potential is not exploited in soccer due to poor administration.

"All are looking at India along with China but we don't have a marketing section," Colaco said.


National coach Stephen Constantine has called for regular friendlies to improve the standard of Indian soccer, but a lack of advance planning makes such fixtures difficult to organise.

The federation plans to meet top club officials to discuss problems before the national league starts in January, but there is scepticism about the proposed rule changes.

Club soccer is confined to pockets of India -- Calcutta in the east and Goa in the south. Even there, most games are played on bumpy public grounds.

"The AIFF should see each state produces at least one club, most units are there only on paper," said East Bengal secretary Kalyan Mazumdar.

He said the federation did little to help clubs or show Indian domestic games on television to popularise the game.

Indian soccer's ills are also blamed on sub-standard foreign players, particularly from Africa. Soccer officials say the history of overseas players is rarely verified.

"There is no control whatsoever on them," Mazumdar said. "But clubs don't have the money to buy good players."

"In olden days, landlords built temples and promoted sport. Now it's up to the corporate world, but no-one is coming forward."

(Additional reporting by Kunal Pradhan)

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