The first World Cup after the Second World War was going to be held in Brazil. Many European countries were still in ruins with governments feeling they should direct resources to more important things than a football tournament. Many countries were due to make their first appearance in a competition which had only just received worldwide notoriety just before the War. In Asia, Philippines Indonesia and Burma all withdrew leaving India to take part for the first time. India, having only just achieved independence from Britain, had competed in the 1948 Olympic Football tournament in London and had played in barefeet. FIFA had subsequently banned the practice despite India only narrowly losing 1-2 to France.
For many years the myth had persisted India had withdrawn from the tournament on account of not being allowed to play in bare feet, but on further investigation it appears there were other more plausible reasons for their non-participation. Firstly, for Indian players the Olympics was the pinnacle and most popular sporting competition in the world. At the time the World Cup was still in its infancy, perfectly illustrated by the fact 1950 would be the first time England had taken part. The AIFF (Indian FA) gave their own reasons at the time as concerns over travel costs to get to Brazil. To counter this there were suggestions the organising committee would pay some of the costs.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2011, Sailen Manna, who would’ve been captain of the Indian team, said;
“We had no idea about the World Cup then. Had we been better informed, we would have taken the initiative ourselves. For us, the Olympics was everything. There was nothing bigger”
Looking back on the decision not to take part probably held Indian football back for years, but then they weren’t the only nation to underestimate what the World Cup could become. After all, they were only in a position to take part as a result of other nations withdrawing.