There was a time when India used to bring Gold in the Asian Games Football and competed for the medal in the Olympics. From there, Indian football has reached a nadir from where there can be no further downslide. A shade prior to the commencement of FIFA Under-17 Football World Cup in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a few announcements aimed at restoring the lost glory of Indian football. He has talked of the need to create a mass movement around football and of giving opportunity to every child in the country to play football. He has also announced Mission XI Million as a movement which will try to take the beautiful game of football to at least 11 million boys and girls in the country. RNI talked to former Olympian, international FIFA referee and coach Syed Shahid Hakim to know what ails Indian football and what measures should be taken to revive the game in the country. Present here are excerpts from Syed Shahid Hakim’s open-hearted conversation:
RNI: You’ve been a prominent footballer, referee and a coach. How do you see your career and your achievements?
Syed Shahid Hakim: Football is my family game. My father, my uncles and my whole family played football and that led to my interest towards football. In 1946, when I was a small kid, my cousins used to take me to see matches. At that time Army teams like Tanks and Royal Airforce played and I watched them. I played football from that young age: at home, on streets and in school. While my father’s wish was to make me an engineer, I was more inclined to become an army personnel and a footballer than an engineer. During my first year I stopped playing football. But in the 2nd year I was forced to play a match. There was only one player from my college and others were from outside and we won the match. Mr. Venkat Chelam who was the physical director in the college called me the next day. He gave me a football boot named Mansfield which was a hard toe shoe and asked me to practise. He said to me that next year I will be the team captain. Though my family supported me for football and my father was a great teacher, the man behind my serious start in football was Mr. Venkat Chelam. Football is like a drug. Once you’re in it then it is something hard living without. Because of football I left engineering and joined Airforce. It was a good decision for my life because being in army I underwent a lot of personality development.
Those days I played a lot of football though I never thought I would play at higher level. When I played for the State for the first time, we became the national champions. Then I was selected for the trial for the pre-Olympics. I got selected and went to Indonesia. We were winners there as well. Then we were sent to Rome. Upon coming back, I joined the Air Force, due to which I had to leave football for two years. I missed the 1962 Asian Games because of Force training where we won the gold. I would have been selected 100% had I been available. Next year, the Chinese war started. From then on I have played continuously. I captained the North India team. My football career which started in 1952 ended in 1975, nearly 25 years.
In Hyderabad, my father had made it compulsory for all Olympians to become referee. I got into referring from 1970. Did referring till 1989. I was referee in 33 international matches, which continue to remain a national record till now. I am doing coaching since then. I was a coach with Jamia Millia. Even today, though I am the Chief Project Director at SAI, I still wear my shorts to coach; this is my passion.
My father was greatly attached to football association. He was the secretary and the coach. What he has given to Indian football, perhaps no other person has given it. Nobody can beat our contribution to football. In 1952 Olympics, where we got the 4th position, my father was the coach, Ziyauddin was the manager and Aziz, Salam, Rehman, Ahmed Husain, Noor, Zulfeqar played and led India to 4th position. My father went twice to Asian Games, in 1951 and 1960, and brought gold both the time. We again got 4th position in 1956 Olympics. We were 6th in the 1960 Olympics. This was truly great achievement. Though we came 4th in the 1956 Olympics, our achievement in 1960 Olympics was truly phenomenal: we lost by one goal to Hungary, we drew with France, and lost by 2 goals to Peru. I do not know how much time it will take when we repeat this performance.
RNI: Please spell out reasons for the downslide?
Syed Shahid Hakim: Commercialisation of sports is good but it did no good to our football. Players and coach get money due to commercialisation. Lionel Messi too takes money to play, but gives back double of what he takes. Federer too takes money but comes back to become number one even if he is down. Our misfortune is that while we take money, we do not give back what needs to be given. The dedication of Rahim sahab and other players of olden times is missing. A player can be a player only due to dedication, not due to money. We never had such facilities in olden times: we have good hotels to stay, we get good diet, there is no dearth of anything, and instead what I see is that there is so much of dry fruits available that a player cannot eat. There is scarcity of dedication! Unless there is dedication, no coach can make you a player. If you love something from heart, you will come up! Whatever you wish to do in life, learn to love! If you develop love for something, be it studies or sports, or be it music or dance, you will excel in the field. You need to develop good habits. You have love towards football, but you sit and watch TV till 1 in the night. You have love but take to drinking. You have love but take to smoking. As long as you are young, you will play but won’t go beyond 4-5 years instead of 20 years. A player is different from a sportsman. People don’t remember the players, but sportsmen are remembered. Look at Federer, he is such a big player but there is no trace of pride on his face. If he wins, he will raise his hand; if he loses, he will still raise his hand and leave quietly. We need to learn a lot from all this!
RNI: 4th position in Olympics and gold in the Asian games. Was commitment the only factor which lead to these achievements?
Syed Shahid Hakim: Rahim sahab died in 1963. From there the decline began. But the sports was good till 1970. Ghulam Moiuddin Badshah sahab of Bengaluru was the coach in 1970 where we got the Bronze medal. Our last commendable performance was in 1982 Asian Games where we lost to Saudi Arabia in the Quarter Finals by one goal. We were dominating but lost due to one mistake. PK Banerjee and Arun Ghosh used to be coaches at that time. From 1982 Asian Games onward our position kept deteriorating so much so that today Indian football has reached its lowest step. There is no scope for going down further!
Pt. Nehru used to say a technical man for a nation counts much more than gold, silver or money. Greatest misfortune of football is that non-technical people are sitting at the helm in most of the federations/associations who have at times not even seen the game, playing is an altogether different cup of tea. Are there no educated footballers who can manage these associations? Are there no administrators among the footballers that they are made to command? Wait and watch for yourself what is going to happen in the forthcoming youth tournament.
RNI: In 2012, FIFA had made announcements to develop Indian football. Five years have elapsed, we are still saying the same things. How will Indian football develop?
Syed Shahid Hakim: I am sensitive person! It is easy to make false claims, even I can make a claim that if you give the command in my hand I will make India the world champion in five years. But what is happening practically? Our standard is falling by the day. What are the reasons? There was a meeting with the Home Secretary recently. He wanted to organize an All India Tournament for children which is good. He asked me the reason for the downfall. I said I cannot recount all the reasons in a short while but one thing that I can say is that you too are responsible. He asked how? I said police has ceased to take interest. Earlier there used to be police teams, like Hyderabad police, Calcutta police, Kerala police, Punjab Police, BSF, CRPF, etc. These used to be extremely good teams. Where are you now? Every person left the ground in the same manner!
Most important thing is that the schools don’t have sports now. Educationists are the greatest enemies of sports today. They take the exam of a 2 and a half year old child. This age is for playing, not for studying. When I was 2 and a half years old, I didn’t even know what a book is. Schools didn’t give admission till the age of 5. Today, you are taking exam of these kids. We educationists have killed the childhood of a child. Mr. (Kapil) Sibbal has put in place the semester examinations. Will a player play inter-university or give the semester exams?
There is no priority for sports today. If you allow me to stand in Parliament, I will speak for two hours without preparation. I will expose each one of them!
RNI: You are talking of Parliament! Recently, our Sports Minister handed out a football each to each of the Parliamentarians. Modi ji has announced Mission XI Million which seeks to reach out to 11 million school kids in order to develop football. What is your view on these attempts?
Syed Shahid Hakim: If I gift a football each to an entire colony, will football get developed by this? Will there be any change by gifting footballs to Parliamentarians? If Modi is really sincere in this regard, my request to him is that he give the Ambedkar Stadium to football. Today, the rent for taking Ambedkar Stadium for a day is Rs. 5000. Which association has the capacity to pay Rs. 5000 per day? It is said state of affairs that Delhi is India’s capital and the association of country’s capital doesn’t have a football stadium of its own. What football development are you talking about?
I just want one thing. Give a piece of land in every village and give one football each every month. A football will merely cost Rs. 300 to Rs. 500. We will put two bamboo poles and tie a thread at the top to make a goalpost. 22 kids will play. If one child will come out from a village, there are nearly 700 villages. Won’t we be able to form a good Indian team in this manner? Can’t you do this little? Can’t the village panchayats give one football a month? Preparing a football or volleyball team is very difficult than preparing an individual player. I am not an athletics coach but if you give me 25 kids, I will make at least one an athlete. But I cannot make a football team in this manner. I need 20 kids. It is not easy to unite 20 kids together. Today, camps are held all the year round. There are academies. There was no such thing earlier. Camps were held at the most for 10 weeks. Rahim sahab did a miracle for India in 10 weeks. But there is no recognition of Rahim sahab today. He was never given any award. Aziz was not given any award. Not just Aziz, Noor, Thangaraj, Balaram, PK Bannerjee, they played 2 Olympics each, 2 to 3 Asian Games. PK Banerjee got Padam Shree but Aziz, Noor, Balaram, Thangaraj, never got any awards. Thereafter, Jarnail Singh, Inder Singh, Habib, Franco, Arun Ghosh too never got an award. Padam Shree was given to a footballer in whose time our team couldn’t even reach third round of Asian Games. What is this justice? Shahid Hakim alone speaks, he will continue to speak, till he dies, whether you listen to him or not.
RNI: Let’s hope Government listens to you…
Syed Shahid Hakim: Tell me… Raheem Sahab, Aziz, Noor, Thangaraj, Balaram, Franco, Arun Ghosh, Jarnail Singh, Habib, Inder Singh, Naeem, why didn’t you give award to these players? They all are Asian Games medallists. Those who got 4th position in the Olympics, you left them and instead gave Padam Shree to a player in whose times our team couldn’t reach the third round of Asian Games. Modi ji or anybody else, he should call me and talk to me, I will take face to face. I am not afraid to talk when I’m speaking the truth. If I am wrong, hang me!
I will not talk about other game. Why should I speak of hockey? But I will speak of football and continue speaking. Give me justification… why was Padam Shree given to a player in whose time India couldn’t reach the third round of Asian Games and why was the honour denied to those who won Gold Medal in the Asia and attained 4th position in the Olympics? How would a child take inspiration from this? He sees there is no justice for him. He might see Hakim as a fool who gave his life to football but why would he follow in foolishness. He could earn millions instead.
RNI (Real News Intl.) news agency