Looking back at things decades later, it can easily be described as one of the worst decisions in the Indian football federation’s history for withdrawing from the 1950 FIFA World Cup because they did not want to wear shoes. But how true is this story? Or is it a myth? Let’s find out.
1950 FIFA World Cup
In the 1948 Olympics, India impressed everyone with a good show. What drew attention was that most players played barefoot, while some wore socks. It was their first international tournament since independence.
FIFA directly told India that they would have to wear shoes for the World Cup. With just one slot from Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Burma withdrew before the qualification round leading to India automatically earning a spot.
And surprisingly, India too did not go for the tournament.
So, why did India withdraw?
Finally, India didn’t go for the World Cup. As the All India Football Federation (AIFF) remained clueless on the reason why the trip was not made and issued a press release that revealed little, too many theories have been floated over the years. It was said in some quarters that Fifa was unwilling to allow the Indians to play barefoot. It is difficult to believe since wearing boots was not mandatory in Fifa equipment regulations before 1953. In 1952, when India played in the Helsinki Olympics, many of their players played without boots and the world body did not object to it.
The lack of funds was cited as another reason – the passage of money to travel to Brazil could have cost the federation dearly. South America was a faraway place; in fact, no Asian team took part in the 1950 World Cup. Though it was believed that Fifa was ready to bear the cost, AIFF issued a press release saying the team would not play the World Cup because of “disagreement over team selection and insufficient practice time.”
The release further said: “India will not participate in the World Cup or the Jules Rimet Cup. Due to late information reaching India, the team will have to be flown to Rio resulting in the cancellation of team selection. Since there is not much time, the Indian team will not be able to prepare and hence it will not be correct to send the team.”
Sailen Manna, who was the captain of Team India in the tournament, says that the AIFF was not taking the World Cup as seriously as the Olympics.
In the current day, this seems unthinkable. No football-playing nation in the world would have a second thought about participating after qualifying successfully for the greatest show on earth. But in 1950, the World Cup was still in its infancy.
So why did they not go? Was it a lack of enthusiasm from the officials or some other reason which did not come to light? Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure – the Indian players’ unwillingness to play in shoes was never the cause of why our country failed to play in a World Cup. It is something the nation regrets, as now, 68 years later, India is yet to play at football’s highest level.