Why is Football in India not as Popular as Cricket?

Although football in India is growing, it is still nowhere near as popular as cricket. We explore the reasons why.

Cricket quickly became a favourite pastime

In 2007, the then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he had high hopes for football to grow in India, calling the country a “sleeping giant”.

With over a billion people, India is known for its passion for sports.

However, one sport stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of popularity and that is cricket.

For decades, cricket has been a cultural phenomenon in India, capturing the hearts and minds of millions.

While football has a global appeal, it still struggles to compete for attention in India.

India’s national team captain Sunil Chhetri admitted:

“Not only the grassroot but also the overall development of Indian football has been good.

“The hard part is reaching the top 10 in Asia is still far. No matter how fast we improve, the improvement seems small as compared to other Asian powers.

“Where we want to reach is still far but we are heading in the right direction.”

We delve into the multifaceted reasons behind cricket’s dominance and football’s uphill battle to gain a stronger foothold in the Indian sports landscape.

Historical Roots

Why is Football in India not as Popular as Cricket - historical

The historical roots of cricket in India date back to the colonial era when the British introduced the sport to the Indian subcontinent.

Cricket quickly became a favourite pastime among the British elite and Indian aristocracy.

This early exposure and adoption of the sport by the ruling classes laid the foundation for cricket’s future in India.

Cricket clubs and tournaments began to sprout across the country, paving the way for the sport’s growth.

Meanwhile, football’s introduction to India was slightly later and less organised.

While football was played in India in the late 19th century, it took time to gain popularity.

The lack of a structured introduction and initial support meant that football had to play catch-up to the already entrenched cricket culture.


Why is Football in India not as Popular as Cricket - hero

One of the key drivers behind cricket’s popularity is India’s remarkable success on the international stage.

The Indian cricket team’s victories, including multiple Cricket World Cup triumphs, have galvanised the nation.

These victories have given birth to cricketing heroes like Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Virat Kohli.

These cricketing legends are not just sports stars, they are cultural icons, revered across the country and their achievements have inspired generations of young cricketers and fueled the cricketing frenzy.

On the other hand, football has struggled to match this level of success.

While the Indian football team has a rich history, it has not achieved the same international recognition and success as the cricket team.

Sunil Chhetri is arguably India’s most famous footballer.

With 92 international goals, he is the fourth-highest international goalscorer of all time, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo being the only active players ahead of him.

Despite Chhetri’s individual success, it is not on the scale of Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kohli.

This has hindered the sport’s popularity in India and without iconic figures to look up to and emulate, football faces an uphill battle in capturing the hearts of the Indian masses.


Why is Football in India not as Popular as Cricket - modi

India boasts a vast network of cricket infrastructure. This includes state-of-the-art stadiums, cricket academies and local clubs.

This infrastructure plays a crucial role in nurturing and developing talent from a young age.

Talented cricketers can access world-class coaching and facilities, which in turn contributes to the country’s cricketing success.

The grassroots cricketing culture is well-established, with school and college cricket being highly competitive.

Football is not as popular because the sport has faced challenges in building a similar infrastructure.

While football stadiums do exist, they are not as widespread or well-maintained as cricket stadiums.

The lack of investment and development at the grassroots level has hindered the growth of football in India.

Limited access to quality coaching and facilities has made it difficult for young footballers to hone their skills and reach their full potential.

Media Coverage

Television and media coverage play a pivotal role in shaping the popularity of sports in India.

Cricket matches, especially those involving the national team, receive extensive media attention and broadcasting.

Cricket is not just a sport in India, it’s an event, a spectacle that captures the nation’s imagination.

The relentless coverage, pre and post-match analysis, and expert opinions create a sense of anticipation and involvement among fans.

Football may be gaining ground but it still struggles to match cricket’s media presence.

The Indian Super League (ISL) has brought some visibility to football, but it has a long way to go to compete with the Indian Premier League (IPL), which is a cricketing extravaganza.

Limited television coverage and less extensive media hype mean that football often takes a back seat in the Indian sports discourse.

Sponsorship & Advertising

The business side of sports also plays a significant role in determining their popularity.

Cricket has managed to attract significant corporate sponsorship and advertising.

Major cricketing events like the IPL have become lucrative platforms for advertisers to reach a massive audience.

The financial backing and commercial interest in cricket have further solidified its status as the dominant sport in India.

Although football is beginning to see some corporate interest, it has not reached the same level of sponsorship and advertising as cricket.

The Indian Super League (ISL) has been a step in the right direction, drawing investments from both domestic and international stakeholders.

However, it will take time for football to match cricket’s commercial appeal.

Cultural Factors

Cricket has often been associated with cultural and national pride in India.

Major cricketing tournaments, especially matches against Pakistan, evoke strong emotions and a sense of unity among fans.

Cricket transcends regional, linguistic and cultural barriers, making it a unifying force in a diverse nation like India.

Additionally, cricket has fewer caste-based associations compared to football, making it more accessible to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, football has struggled with cultural and regional biases.

In some regions of India, football is deeply ingrained in the local culture, but it lacks the pan-Indian appeal that cricket enjoys.

The sport’s regional variations, religious affiliations and diverse fan bases have sometimes led to fragmentation rather than unity.

Lack of Football Success

The success of a sport on the international stage can significantly impact its popularity.

While cricket has seen numerous victories in international competitions, Indian football has not achieved the same level of success.

The Indian national football team has struggled to qualify for major international tournaments like the World Cup.

This lack of success has dampened enthusiasm for the sport at the international level.

On the other hand, cricket’s global appeal has been reinforced by India’s strong performances in international cricket.

The Cricket World Cup, ICC T20 World Cup and other prestigious tournaments have consistently featured India as a competitive force.

The national pride associated with these victories has further solidified cricket’s status as the nation’s leading sport.

Lack of Investment

Compared to cricket, football in India has historically received less investment and attention.

While there has been some progress in recent years, with the emergence of the ISL and increased investment in football infrastructure, cricket still commands the lion’s share of resources and support.

The lack of investment has hindered the development of football at the grassroots level and the establishment of top-tier leagues and academies.

Cricket’s Global Appeal

One of cricket’s unique advantages is its global appeal.

Cricket is played by many nations around the world, making it a truly global sport.

Major cricketing tournaments bring together teams from diverse countries, creating a sense of global competition and camaraderie.

This global reach not only enhances cricket’s prestige but also provides Indian fans with the opportunity to follow and connect with international cricket.

Football is also a global sport but it faces stiff competition from other popular sports in various parts of the world.

The international football landscape is highly competitive, with football giants like Brazil, Germany and Argentina dominating the sport.

This makes it challenging for Indian football to gain the same level of international recognition and success as cricket.

Cricket’s dominance over football in India can be attributed to a combination of historical factors, cricketing success, infrastructure, media coverage, cultural appeal and investment.

While football has made strides in the country in recent years, it faces formidable challenges in its quest for greater popularity.

The Indian Super League (ISL) and increased corporate interest are positive signs for the future of football in India, but they must be accompanied by sustained efforts to develop infrastructure, talent, and a strong footballing culture.

In a country as diverse as India, where sports play an integral role in society, there is room for multiple sports to thrive.

While cricket may remain the undisputed king for the foreseeable future, football’s growing popularity suggests that it may challenge cricket’s dominance one day and offer Indian sports enthusiasts a more diverse sporting landscape.

Dhiren is a journalism graduate with a passion for gaming, watching films and sports. He also enjoys cooking from time to time. His motto is to “Live life one day at a time.”

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