Tuesday 10 March 2015


World Cup and the lesser known teams...how can they be separated? 
The year 2002 was the first time football World Cup was staged in Asia - and the event had finally reached the largest continent seventy years after the inception of this premier tournament. France, the defending champions of 1998, the European champions of 2000 was still the best team to beat and a favourite to retain the title. Senegal defeated France, yes it was a freakish goal by Diop - but that goal was enough to write a script for a team that was unheard of, in the world stage. It was the World Cup and there is something else that brings in the best of the lesser known teams. France then drew with Uruguay, lost by two goals to Denmark and as a result went out of the tournament without scoring a goal. This is just one such story and there are many such tales of World Cup and not just in football.

Football is popular for a reason; and if not for their global outlook and appeal, the game would not have succeeded and tasted fame in the modern era. Cricket cannot be compared to football - but is it wrong in trying to have the global appeal and look to emulate the father of all sports? No one likes to watch a strong team strangle a weak opponent on a daily basis and rarely people turn up to watch two minnows competing against each other. So what is the solution? Having cricket world cup reduced to just a test-playing nations affair is not the way, and irrespective of the number of teams, there will be minnows even in the big league, because ratings are what that counts - the number one, the chasers, race for avoiding the last place and so on.

What is the role of the International Federation and whom do they report to? Is it the commercial partners, the association members, the fans or a fruitful combination of all? People and fans turn up to watch the innumerable bilateral series, countless ODI's and T20's. But that does not drive the sport globally if it does not travel beyond the boundaries. What does is that a relative, a friend or a group of people getting together in Afghanistan, Scotland, Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Bermuda, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Netherlands, UAE and many more from the Associate and Affiliate countries, because it is the World Cup! - a place where underdogs can dream of achieving glory just like many such stories we have in different sports. Global appeal is what cricket seriously aspires, then World Cup is the stage to showcase it, for there are no other words than World Cup which generates attention and more the countries, merrier it is.

Favourites winning is logical, predictable and worthy - but just as in life, in sports too all we seek are stories that are never being told before, something fresh, unique and tales that evoke interest. Beyond the hopes, against the odds, the victory over the might is what makes the headlines. In not providing such a opportunity, one needs to re-look at the term 'international' and 'world cup' as not having more teams is a recipe for stagnancy.

What are the roles played by the commercial partners who fund the game? I have never heard a business house complain if their name and product reached out to many places across the world. Ask Pepsi, what's their challenge is? Sixteen teams or even thirty two teams for a 50-day event is possible and will be the way to go. Thirty two teams divided into eight groups and then the knock out begins. What are we afraid of? If big teams do not make it past the first round? or will they lose in the round of sixteen? Should there a minimum number of matches guaranteed to evoke interest levels till the dusk of the tournament? or do you want to watch series of do or die contests? For a greater reach, few one-sided games can be excused and if we all seek only for the master teams, what will happen those apprentices who have ambitions to be a master one day or defeat them on a given day? Have we come so far ahead that, we have forgotten how we got here in the first place?

Familiarity breeds contempt and do I need to say more? The suspense of not knowing your opponent is what brings in the element of drama, the awe-inspiring moments, the breathtaking scenarios, the theatrics, the elite performers irrespective of their background till the time when winners takes all.

Whoever it is who needs to make decisions for the future of the World Cup, take a good look at the outside world, beyond the four walls where the decision would probably be made; understand the value of legacy and embrace the power in you, the ability to take this sport as it has been envisioned.
To be the best, you gotta be in the league of the best! And having a World Cup with less teams will only have limited reach and a very clouded future.  

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