Being one of the world’s largest and most populated nations, India has always been an abode for several kinds of sports for many years – ranging from cricket and football to hockey, horse racing, and kabaddi, which is indigenous to the country. Some of these sports are pretty popular in the country, with a decent following and notable leagues and tournaments in their name. Leagues such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), Indian Super League (ISL), Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), Premier Badminton League (PBL), and some others are well-recognized and followed events in India.
However, you’d agree that every country has a particular sport that is the most favoured among other popular sports – like cricket in India. Cricket is undoubtedly the most popular and most loved sport in India, both in the massive following it receives and the number of people who participate in it. Many people often refer to the sport as a religion due to its incredible impact on India at local, national, and even international levels. However, as mentioned above, some other sports have undergone significant developments and gained massive popularity in India in recent years. One of these is football, a sport known to rival cricket in terms of viewership.
Considering the fact that football is the most popular sport globally and its rise in popularity in India lately, the question of which is most preferred between football and cricket often pops up among Indians. In this article, we will try to answer this popular question by looking deep into the history of both sports and where they currently stand in India.
Football in India
Over the years, football has grown in popularity among the masses and is widely played across various stadiums, schools, and playgrounds. Football was first introduced in India during the colonial era towards the end of the 19th century by British Soldiers, and its history down the lane in the country has been nothing short of fascinating. India’s earliest football clubs were formed around this time, and many of them were older than notable English leagues such as the EPL. Many tournaments were also introduced – such as the renowned Durand Cup, which took place in Shimla in 1888. This event remains the number three oldest sports tournament globally.
The 2017 Under-17 World Cup hosted in India is one of the most notable events in the history of Indian football. This tournament marked the first entrance of the Indian football team into an international football competition and provided an opportunity for the country to improve its football facilities and infrastructures. Apart from India’s splendid performance in this competition, it also caused an upsurge in the sport’s viewership as it gathered more than 1.3 million viewers – breaking the record as the most viewed FIFA U-17 tournament ever. This is a major inspiration behind the selection of India as the host country for the FIFA 2022 Under-17 Women’s World Cup.
The Indian Super League (ISL)
Football was not a well-recognized sport in India some years back, as the sport witnessed some significant setbacks. It is safe to say the sport had only struggled to keep itself above the waves after the passage of what is known today as the ‘golden era’ – a period between 1951 and 1962 when the Indian football team performed great strides and won various titles. The primary drive behind the rapid growth seen in Indian football today is the establishment of the ISL in 2013 and its replacement of the I-League as the face of Indian football in 2019.
The I-League used to be the primary Indian football league; however, it did not generate the attention, publicity, glamour, and sponsorships needed to put football on a pedestal in India. However, the AIFF decided to replace the I-League with the ISL as India’s top football league in 2019. This decision effectively pulled massive attention toward the sport – generating millions of fans and supporters across the country. Today, India’s ISL and foreign leagues such as EPL, Champions League, La Liga, etc., are massively followed by people across every state in India.
Cricket in India
Like football, cricket was also introduced in India by British soldiers during the colonial era. Since its inception, the sport has enjoyed a massive following than any other sport in India – reaching new heights with the World Cup won in 1983. Even hockey, which is known as India’s national sport, does not come near cricket in terms of popularity.
While many may refer to football as a spectator sport in India, cricket does not only have the highest TV viewership, but it is also the most played sport on the streets, stadiums, and schools within the country. Thus, many people refer to it as a national obsession. According to statistics, cricket attracts more than 90% of total sports viewers in India – a staggering figure to say the least. Another study shows that betting cricket is responsible for 80% of all sports wagers. You can visit Parimatch for a fantastic cricket betting experience.
The Indian Premier League (IPL)
Though cricket has always been quite popular in India, the ascent of the IPL has shot the adoption of the sport through the roof. Since its creation in 2008, the IPL has revolutionized the face of Indian cricket by generating huge cash funds, major sponsorships, enormous media coverage, and developing local talents for the sport. The league has put Indian cricket in the limelight – placing it in the centre of the entertainment industry and attracting the attention of notable foreign cricket players and bodies. Currently, the IPL is the most-watched cricket league and one of the most popular sports leagues globally – hitting a viewership mark of 380 million in 2021.
Though both cricket and football are both loved in India, every statistic points to cricket as the most popular sport in the country. The IPL’s viewership and its betting revenues surpass every other sport in India and studies show that more expansion is to be expected in coming years. Football is recently booming with the ISL achieving significant strides in the sports sector – however, the sport is still in a progressive phase and has yet to reach its full potential. Thus, it still has a long way to go in overtaking cricket as the most preferred sport in the country.