Do you know Santosh Kumar? YES! If you are involved in Indian football. If NO! Let me tell you the story.
Santosh Kumar is one of the FIFA certified football referees. Here is not the end. He was a referee in I-League as well as ISL aka Indian Super League, which is the (so-called) revolutionary tournament in India, according to dozens football professionals.
When, we are talking about ISL, foreign players, grassroots developments of football etc. Santosh Kumar is driving an auto-rickshaw for his living and this is the harsh TRUTH of Indian football infrastructure.
Mr. Kumar has refereed more than 150 national matches. Nehru Cup, I-League and Indian Super League are included in this list. At the same time, he was the referee in Indian vs. Bayern Munich match, which was organized in 2012 and in which India was defeated to Bayern Munich with 4-0.
The Kerala based FIFA accredited referee was a rickshaw driver even before obtaining the AIFF and FIFA tag. He started his career for Rs. 200 per match in 90s. However, due to several reasons including an injury, he left playing. Nevertheless, the hope was still alive and that turned him into a FIFA accredited referee.
Even after having a FIFA tag, Mr. Kumar needs to drive an auto-rickshaw for the living. That simply implies the poor infrastructure of Indian football. Actually, it would be partially wrong, if you blame the infrastructure of football in India. A country should have a good economical side to support and improve the whole structure. Otherwise, we will keep getting more Santosh Kumar.
No matter, India brings a dozen foreign coaches and managers, but the internal problem cannot be solved in this way, which is generally known as financial problem. To meet the daily need, players and referees would end up with an auto-rickshaw or so.
According to MB Santosh Kumar, Indian football has been improved due to ISL. On the same, he has said,
The quality has improved recently. We performed well in the ISL recently. Compared to international teams, quality is not up to the mark, but when compared with our previous record, we have definitely come a long way.
Indian football is certainly improving day by day. According to current FIFA ranking, Indian is standing on 141st position, which is probably the best place for Indian football team.
On the other hand, AIFF has acknowledged that Santosh Kumar is one of the best Indian referees in past two years. But, still the truth cannot be changed.
Santosh Kumar’s story implies that the pay-scale of Indian referees is not well. That is the actual reason, why he needs to drive an auto-rickshaw to make a living. If you think Indian football will be changed in ‘near’ future, you may have to wait for couple of decade since this kind of problems cannot be solved overnight.