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Football vs bootball: Why the Indian football team did not wear shoes during the 1948 London Olympics

Eight out of eleven Indian players of the Indian football team voluntarily refused to wear shoes as they were more comfortable playing barefoot.

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With the launch of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, there has been a renewed interest in a particular black-and-white photo of the Indian men’s football team. The photo that shows the Indian squad approaching the field barefoot for a match against France in the 1948 London Olympics is getting widely circulated.

On Sunday, this historic photo was shared online by the popular Twitter page named indianhistorypics (@IndiaHistorypic). The picture was simply captioned, “1948 :: Indian Football Team Arriving In Ground Without Shoes to Play Against France”.

This iconic photo is often followed by social media claims that the players were barefoot because they were too broke to afford shoes themselves and had frugal government sponsorship. These allegations often put the blame of India’s loss to France (by 1-2) on the lack of sports gear. However, these allegations are untrue.

In a detailed debriefer about ‘Indian football at the Olympics’, published on the official website of the Olympics, it is mentioned that during the above-mentioned match held on July 31, 1948, eight out of 11 team members of the Indian team voluntarily played without shoes.

The blog reports that Talimeren Ao, the captain of the Indian team, was widely quoted as saying, “Well, you see, we play football in India, whereas you play bootball!” when he asked about his team’s barefoot participation. It is widely believed that eight players, many of whom had worn protective ankle straps, preferred playing without the shoes on the wet and slippery ground of East London’s Cricklefield Stadium.

As per an article published in Scroll.in by Jaydeep Basu, the author of 2003 book Stories from Indian Football, up until 1953, many international tournaments like FIFA did not have any regulations about wearing shoes during matches.

First published on: 21-11-2022 at 15:49 IST
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