Flashback: When India Chose Not to Play the 1950 FIFA World Cup
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: iStock)

Flashback: When India Chose Not to Play the 1950 FIFA World Cup

The 21st FIFA World Cup is set to begin on 14 June in Russia. Once again, there will be no team from India at the quadrennial competition. The Blue Tigers have not featured in a single senior FIFA World Cup tournament till date – having only participated in their first-ever FIFA World Cup during the U-17 competition in 2017.

India failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after recording losses against Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam and Iran during the qualifiers.

India have struggled to book a spot in the World Cup for many years. In 1950, India had a chance to play in the big event. But they did not. You may have heard the oft-repeated story that the team was not allowed to play because they wanted to play the tournament barefoot.

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File photo of the Indian football team in 1950.
File photo of the Indian football team in 1950.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@HISTORYTV18)

Is that story true, you ask. No, the truth is that the host nation, Brazil, asked the Indian team to travel for the 1950 World Cup, but the All India Football Federation (AIFF) decided not to participate, as Sports Illustrated records.

At the time, for India, the Olympics was a bigger deal than the football World Cup, which, in 1950, was the fourth edition of the global competition. So the AIFF did not see it fit to send a team halfway around the world via ship. Brazil even offered to sponsor the travel costs, but the AIFF declined.

Turkey too decided not to participate, since it couldn’t travel too far; European sides like Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and France also gave the tournament a miss. The AIFF were wary about the Indian team’s fitness as well, since they played 70-minute games while the teams played for 90 minutes in the World Cup.

The bottom line is that the AIFF thought it made no sense to send a team to a “small” tournament, especially since it would probably be humiliated in front of other teams. India were invited for the World Cup only because all their regional competitors pulled out of the tournament, Sports Illustrated reports.

We had no idea about the World Cup then. For us, the Olympics was everything. There was nothing bigger.
Sailen Manna, Indian Football Captain in 1950, as quoted by Sports Illustrated

The Indian Team Did Play Barefoot

For what it’s worth, the myth of not being allowed to play the World Cup because the team wanted to play without boots stems from the fact that the Indian team did play football barefoot at the time.

During the 1948 Olympics, the Indian team either played barefoot, or in socks. In the first round against France, the Indians managed to hold their opponents at 1-1 until the French found the back of the net in the 89th minute.

Impressed with India’s performance, King George VI invited the team, coached by Syed Abdul Rahim, to the Buckingham Palace. At the time, the British media called forward Ahmed Khan a “snake charmer” for his excellent ball control, according to Sports Illustrated.

However, in the next Olympics, the Indians found it difficult to play barefoot on the cold turf in Helsinki, Finland, and succumbed to a 1-10 loss to Yugoslavia.

Following the disastrous loss, the AIFF made it mandatory for the players to wear boots.

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