Inside India’s barefoot endeavor in football at the 1948 Olympics


With footballing fever having taken over the world courtesy the ongoing FIFA World Cup and a huge number of upsets opening up avenues for a new soccer world leader, fans across the globe have gone into a frenzy over the probable turn of world soccer.


We, as a nation, have nothing much to cheer or despair about with India not having represented the country at the global stage since independence, despite a golden chance at having a shot during the 1950 event, which ultimately failed to materialise owing to reasons that should not have contributed so much to the growth of football as a sport in the country.

World Cup soccer
Source: Dailymotion

The country’s first rendezvous with international football after independence happened to be during the 1948 Olympics, which turned out to be an interesting game of sorts, for reasons that pertained not only to the game but also beyond it. And July 31 this year is set to be the 70th ‘anniversary’ of sorts of the ‘historic’ occurrence.

1948 Olympics Indian football
Source: Salon urody


In the only match that India played out in its maiden soccer appearance at the Olympics, France was the rival team and though India failed to get past their fancied opponents, the boys did put up a spirited show, rallying to take a shot at the goal post and being tied till at least twenty minutes of time remaining.

However, the goal that France scored in the closing minutes of the game snatched the match away from their rivals, who had by then already grabbed headlines for playing barefoot at sports’ showpiece event!

The consequence was great- that of instant ‘fame’ in the larger world view, but the reason was quite simple- it was easier for Indians to play without their shoes on, the way they had been accustomed to with their years of practicising since like forever.

Indian football team
Source: Iluminasi

The team, captained by enigmatic Naga Dr Talimeren Ao, found it more comfortable to play without shoes, and despite widespread notions of not being able to afford footwear by the national team, the facts remain that it was more convenient for the players if they did not have any obstructions to weigh down on their feet, allowing them- or their feet- to concentrate more on the game of ‘foot’ball.

Dr Talimeren Ao
Source: Indpaedia


The move, many believe, had repercussions, with India’s decision to opt out of the World Cup two years later being credited to their reluctance of having to play with shoes on. In fact, India sat out of the 1952 spectacle even after Asia’s slot at the event had been left vacant, owing to pull outs by the other Asian countries namely the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma.

However, as it emerged later, the pull out was a result of miscommunication between Indian football’s governing body and the national team, with the ultimate onus having been put on participation at the Olympics and not on the World Cup.

Indian football
Source: Outside of the Boot

Thus, what transpired as a result of this withdrawal was decades of negligence and lack of growth of Indian football, before it finally had somewhat of a resurgence to slowly claw its way up the ladder of progress.

But the whole story of ‘bare feet play’ as the reason behind India’s dismal show in world soccer till until recently turns out to be baseless and illogical. For, it is not so much in the manner of playing as the spirit in which the game is played that should be the ultimate aim of sporting glory.