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How Nehru crushed India’s Football World Cup dream!

Post independence, India managed to qualify for the 1950 FIFA World Cup, which was scheduled to take place in Brazil. However, India mysteriously withdrew from the World Cup just before the tournament was about to begin. This is an exceptional event in the history of football when a country qualified for the World Cup said no, despite good preparation and qualification.  Since then, India has not come close to qualifying for another World Cup Football.

It was such a strange decision that All India Football Federation (AIFF), the government body controlling football at that time gave different reasons for the team’s withdrawal to different people. Brazilian organizers were informed that Indian team is withdrawing due to lack of traveling cost. Listening to this, organizers even offered to pay most of the expenses to make their tournament more representative, but that was simply refused. In this period, when PM Nehru and his extended family was living a lavish life reaping all the benefits from sacrifices of the patriotic Indian, this would have been difficult message to communicated to Indian media and people. Hence, to the Indian media and people, AIFF told that India withdrew from the World Cup due to FIFA imposing a rule banning players from playing barefoot. However, according to the then captain of India, Sailendra Nath Manna, this was a colossal lie by the then federation and the Indian government.

Sailendra Nath Manna, popularly known as Sailen Manna in the later years told that the story of the team not being allowed to play due to wanting to play barefoot was not true and was just an excuse to cover up the real reasons the AIFF decided not to travel to Brazil. Under Manna’s captaincy, India won the Gold Medal in the 1951 Asian Games and also won the Quandrangular Tournament for four consecutive years from 1952 to 1956. In 1953, the England Football Association rated him among the 10 best skippers of the world in its yearbook. Manna was also the captain of the Indian team in 1952 Olympics and a member of the 1954 Asian Games.

In the 1950s, India had numerous talented footballers. There was depth of talent and fierce competition for each position. So India could have fared well in the 1950 World Cup. Above all, many of the Indian forwards in 1950 were skillful dribblers and relied on body feints and subtle passes upfront. Players like Ahmed Khan, S. Raman, MA Sattar and S. Mewalal would have been adored by the Brazilian fans who always cheered teams which relied on intricate passing and dribbling.

Despite such decisions propaganda was spread that Nehru appreciated the value of sports in both nation building and developing an international identity. While, football in India lost it luster in the later years due to such decisions, as an irony the AIFF in 1982 started a football competition “Nehru Cup” .

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