India is in the game: Game of Our Lives Episode 6

In the sixth episode of Game of Our Lives, host David Goldblatt speaks with writer Supriya Nair about the little-known history of football in India, and the influence of celebrities in building up fan bases around the game.

    "The Indian Super League is so young that to look at it would make you believe that football was born in India three years ago," says Supriya Nair, a Mumbai-based writer, editor, AC Milan fan, and this week's Game of Our Lives guest.

    Football may have come to India more than 100 years ago, but Nair's not wrong in calling the national football league "young".

    The ISL was not founded until 2014, in a land where cricket is king and field hockey an heir to that throne, it's no major surprise that football has failed to capture the full attention of the nation's sports fans.

    Despite the well-attended annual Kolkata Derby - a match that dates back to 1925 in which Kolkata's Mohun Bagan and East Bengal face off - the game did not step into the spotlight until 2017, when India hosted the men's FIFA under-17 World Cup.

    "Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, seemed to be surgically attached to his Twitter feed through the competition," said Game of Our Lives host David Goldblatt.

    Yet, Goldblatt adds, "even with scenes like this, all attempts to establish a proper, functioning national football league in India have been unsuccessful".

    In the sixth episode of Game of Our Lives, Goldblatt and Nair talk about the little-known history of football in India, the nation's fan identities, and the ways in which celebrity culture has played a part in the rise of the ISL - a phenomenon that's similar to the story of the cricket league, the Indian Premier League (IPL).

    "You may remember that when the IPL was floated, many of its biggest owners - the showrunners, the guys in the stands - were Hindi movie stars," said Nair.

    In the same manner that the IPL had the backing of Bollywood and high-profile celebrities, the ISL has captured the support of some of the nation's biggest sports stars, including the former Indian cricket captain Sachin Tendulkar.

    "It's very rare to make the people who own the clubs virtually the stars of the show," says Goldblatt.

    You can hear the full conversation between Goldblatt and Nair in the episode player above. Then visit Game of Our Lives to read Goldblatt's latest blog post, about the connection between cricket and football in India, and the festivities around the 2014 launch of the ISL.

    Subscribe for free onApple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also listen on the Game of Our Lives Facebook page. 

    Follow the show on Twitter and Instagram at@gameofourlives.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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