Beneath the box office lurks hidden danger
The last few years, Indian football has played to such sparse crowds
that the organisers may have forgotten how to handle situations
created by a ceaseless flood of spectators towards the gates.
The semi-final between India and Iraq in the Eider Nehru Cup series
at Kochi last April highlighted this.
Apparently there was no control on the sale of tickets at the
stadium, as also in the various districts of the state. In the
bargain, not only were holders of genuine tickets unable to gain
entry, but also there were counterfeit tickets and gate-crashing
into the venue. Understandably, Iraq and the match officials from
abroad were apprehensive and reluctant to take the field. They
were persuaded to, and fortunately there was nothing untoward to spark
off an explosion.
This was thanks to the reputation crowds in Kerala have established
over the years for their appreciation of good play from whoever
it may flow, and for exemplary good behaviour. Organisers of tournaments
have been banking on this to rake in the rupees.
But this is something that the All-India Football Federation and
the Indian Football Association (the controlling body of West
Bengal) cannot. For the history of the game in Calcutta has enough
instances of violent conduct of players, team officials and supporters
in matches between leading teams.
Maybe this was at the back of Amal Dutta's mind when he stressed
that a foreign referee must be brought in to supervise last Sunday's
Kalyani Black Label Cup semi-final between his team, Mohun Bagan,
and arch rivals East Bengal. Dutta feared that no Indian referee,
barring Sumanta Ghosh of Calcutta, could be unaffected by the
din that will be created by over a lakh of fans and make wrong
decisions which could lead to disruptions in play and their consequences.
In the event, FIFA referee Inayatullah from Bangalore kept the
match well under his control, including flashing the yellow card
to star of the match and the highest paid footballer of the country,
Baichung Bhutia, when he gestured to the crowd after scoring one
of his three goals in the 4-1 victory.
To the good luck of the AIFF and the IFA, the match was in a domestic
competition, and in such cases the Asian Football Confederation
and the Federation Internationale de Football Association generally
do not interfere. And also to the good luck of the AIFF and the
IFA, nothing untoward happened before, during or after the match.
Had anything happened, the AIFF and the IFA could have been in
a pretty pickle and facing heavy sanctions from both the AFC and
the FIFA. For, following the tragedies at the European Cup final
at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, the F.A. Cup semi-final at
Hillsborough and an English Third Division match at Bradford, all
in 1986, and incidents in World Cup qualifying matches in 1989-90,
FIFA has been more strict in its vigil to maintain the good name
of the sport.
Again, had there been clashes among rival supporters, or a stampede
or outbreak of violence over disputed decisions, the AIFF and
the IFA would not have been able to absolve themselves in the
eyes of the AFC and the FIFA - for the evidence against the former
pair would be staggering.
In the fortnight before the semi-final, although East Bengal were
yet to play Mohammedan Sporting in the quarter-final and earn
the right to play Mohun Bagan next, Amal Dutta, and his counterpart,
P K Banerjee (though more restrained), had kindled the fire in
the bellies of their respective club fans and probably players
as well, with statements about tactics their teams would adopt to be one
up in this titantic clash. The atmosphere grew more and more tense
as the match day approached. Tickets were sold in black, though
the police did its best to dissuade fans from dealing with touts.
All this build-up made for Indian football sitting atop an ammunition
depot, without much appraatus for rescue work. This is something
that the AIFF and the IFA should never have allowed. Especially
as the AIFF president, Mr Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, based in Calcutta,
is ever ready to take recourse to the guidelines and
advice of the AFC and the FIFA even in the matter of entertaining
teams for domestic competitions, like the one under discussion,
namely the Kalyani Black Label Cup.
It is to be wondered what would have happened if the AIFF, in
a weak moment, reacted to Amal Dutta's suggestion that a foreign
referee must be given charge of the match. And if the foreign
referee, as Dutta wished, was a strict, unyielding man, the semi-final
may not have taken place. For clearly, there were more people in
the Salt Lake Stadium than the maximum meant to be accommodated
when it was newer and in better condition. Instead of the maximum
capacity of 1,20,000, there were 1,31,781. And the precise number
mentioned by press reports lends belief that the figures had been
Which means that knowingly, the AIFF and the IFA had allowed nearly
12,000 people more for the highly tense semi-final, an unpardonable
excess. The attendance set two records. One for the highest turn-out
for any match, not only in India but also anywhere in Asia, and
maybe anywhere in the world save for the matches at the Maracana
Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The other record is for the callous dereliction of duty by the
AIFF and the IFA, particularly when set against the determined
efforts of the world body to eliminate factors that would endanger
the safety of the spectators at stadia.