By Dr Kumar Mahabir
Indians in India and the Indian Diaspora love cricket. However, it seems that football — also called soccer — is not their game of preference.
Football is a popular sport in the Caribbean, but there is not a single Indo-Trinidadian in the national football team in Trinidad and Tobago, although some sports historians mention the names Son Ramroop and Bobby Sookram.
In Guyana, like Trinidad ad Tobago, there is not a single Indo-Guyanese (Indian) man on the national team.
However, in the Guyana national women’s football team, there are two Indian women footballers: Brittany Persaud and Kiana Khedoo.
In neighbouring Suriname, however, there is a difference. Surinamese (Hindustani) men have played on the national team in international games.
The following are highlights of a ZOOM public meeting, held recently, on the topic, “Indians In West Indian National Football”. The Pan-Caribbean meeting was hosted by the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC), and was chaired and moderated by Bindu Deokinath Maharaj of Trinidad.
The speakers were: Ramesh Ramdhan (Trinidad), a football (soccer) referee, who supervised the Japan-Croatia match during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France; Ashok Bainnathsah (Suriname), administrator of the Surinamese Football Association (SVB) and Competition Manager since 2013; Thakoerdien Luna Haroen (Suriname), football player, who has scored goals against many countries, including Mexico, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago; Prishad Poetra Parmessar (Suriname), player, goalkeeper, a referee with national football teams, and a licensed coach with a degree; and Quaraisy Nagessersing Mohammed (Suriname), a sports journalist, who has reported on World Cup football matches.
Ramesh Ramdhan said:
“I believe the question of why Indian footballers are rear on national teams stems from a socio-cultural issue. Historically, there has been a significant lack of strong role models in the field. This may be due to the negative stigma that has been previously attached to persons, who play football. To play football, you were expected to be strong and brutal, although this is not necessarily the case.
“In secondary schools, many young Indian footballers excel. However, there exists a problem at this stage of the young Indian footballers’ life: Indian parents want their children to focus on education.”
Ashok Bainnathsah reported:
“The first Hindustani football club in Suriname was Jai Hind, which had only one non-Hindustani. After Jai Hind, came Amarjoti (with 17 Hindustani players), Shanti Dell, KD (with 21 players), and Takdier Boys (with 20 players). Most of these clubs had 80 percent of Hindustani players.
“I can tell you that, between 1975 and 1982, three Hindustani footballers played for the national team of Suriname. At the beginning of 2000, two Hindustani footballers played for the national team.
“The 14 clubs in the first division, now have four Hindustani players. In the second division, Deva Boys has no Hindustani players and Kamal Dewaker has only one. The other clubs in the second divison have four Hindustani footballers, making a total of five players.
“Suriname has a youth competition that starts with Under-9 till Under-20. In that competition, there are a lot of young Hindustani players. Some of them are very good, but by the age of 16-18, they choose to study instead.
“Overall, Hindustani football players don’t reach the top, because they have other goals in life. They are dedicated to their family, and prefer to go into the professions or in business. In Holland, it is the same pattern.
Thakoerdien Luna Haroen noted:
“I was a footballer in the National Junior Championship against Puerto Rico in 1973, and a senior football player from 1973 to 1984. I played on the Suriname national team and scored goals in competitions against many countries, including Mexico, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.”
Prishad Poetra Parmessar stated:
“The two best-known footballers of Indian (Hindustani) descent to play at the highest level are Vikash Dhorasoo (France) and Surinamese-born, Aron Winter (Holland).
“In Suriname, we have had some Hindustani footballers of which goalkeeper, Saliek, is the most popular. He played for Jai Hind and Leo Victor (with which team he won the league title), and was also selected for the national team. We also had one head coach on the national team during the ’80s, named Ro Phoelsing.”
Quaraisy Nagessersing Mohammed said:
“Hindustanis in Suriname have a special love for football and wrestling. Even though we have a lot of Hindustani-owned clubs, this ethnic group is invisible in the highest levels of the Surinamese football competition. This is a little shocking, because when we look at the district competitions, there are numerous active Hindustani teams.
“This has not always been this way. In 1960 up to the ’80s, there were some Hindustani teams that performed very well, and even performed in the highest competition, e.g. Takdier Boys, Jai Hind, Kamal Dewaker and Perkash.”
Dr. Mahabir is an anthropologist, based in Trinidad and Tobago, who has published 12 books on Indo-Caribbean identity.