The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. - 09404955338, 09415777229;



Football and Mahatma Gandhi


Mahatma Gandhi loved football very much. He mentioned in his letters, speeches and articles many time. He knew it that anyone can get best exercise through game. Football is a sport that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal. Various forms of football can be identified in history, often as popular peasant games. In the twentieth century, the various codes of football have become amongst the most popular team sports in the world. A game known as football was played in Scotland as early as the 15th century: it was prohibited by the Football Act 1424 and although the law fell into disuse it was not repealed until 1906. There is evidence for schoolboys playing a football game in Aberdeen in which is notable as an early allusion to what some have considered to be passing the ball. It is not certain that the ball was being struck between members of the same team. The original word translated as goal is metum, literally meaning the pillar at each end of the circus course in a Roman chariot race. There is a reference to get hold of the ball before another player does suggesting that handling of the ball was allowed. One sentence states in the original 1930 translation throw you against him.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The most glaring instance that has come to our knowledge is in connection with the visit of the Indian football teams from Kimberley and Durban. In another column, we publish the whole of the correspondence which speaks for itself. The Acting Chief Secretary could not see why temporary permits should be granted to British Indian players who, be it remembered, are all respectable men and living in European style, if that counts for anything. Football is an essentially English game, and we would have thought that Mr. Robinson would not have referred to it sarcastically, as he has done in the correspondence in question. Mr. C. Bird, Principal under Secretary, to whom the Indian players ought to feel most deeply grateful, sent a pressing wire to the Permit Secretary, which too met with scant courtesy at the hands of the Transvaal authorities.”1

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “All we can say is that we do not understand the reasons for this activity, for Lord Milner, with an iron hand, has stopped the entry even of the few Indian refugees who were allowed to return to their homes per month. Indeed, as our readers must have noticed, His Excellency would not even allow temporary permission to an Indian football team to pass the sacred precincts of the Transvaal. What, then, would the White Leagues do to justify their existence, unless, like the Potchefstroom vigilantes, they intend to terrorise the resident Indians? The proposed action of the Town Council with reference to the regulation of closing hours, we sympathise with.”2

These games and others may well go far back into antiquity. However, the main sources of modern football codes appear to lie in Western Europe, especially England. During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various public school games. In 1862, J. C. Thring, who had been one of the driving forces behind the original Cambridge Rules, was a master at Upping ham School and he issued his own rules of what he called The Simplest Game. In early October 1863 another new revised version of the Cambridge Rules was drawn up by a seven member committee representing former pupils from Harrow, Shrewsbury, Eton, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “At the Ebenezer School, Mr. David Ernest had convened a meeting of the members of the Transvaal Football Association. About 50 waiters attended it. The meeting took place on Monday at 3.30 p.m. Mr. Gandhi explained the position about the law. Mr. Naidoo interpreted in Tamil. Finally Mr. Polak spoke. He told a story. Once upon a time there was an animal. It had this peculiar characteristic, that if its head was cut off, two would grow in its place. Thus, whenever its head was cut off, it would be left with double the number of heads. When people came to know of this, they stopped troubling the animal. The Indian community had to behave in a similar manner.”3

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Newspapers are full of the controversy. Reports about it and reports of football and cricket fill all the space in them. It is beyond my understanding what good the discovery of the North Pole has done the world; but such things are regarded as important sign-posts of contemporary civilization. What exactly is their importance they alone can say who claim to understand these matters.”4 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Sport indulged in for the sake of developing the body is of some use. But we venture to suggest that agriculture; the inherited occupation of Indians indeed of the human race is better sport than football, cricket and all other games put together. And it is useful, dignified and remunerative. Football and cricket may be well for those who have the drudgery of the desk work to go through from day to day. But no Indian need undertake that task. We therefore advise our young sporting friends to take Mr. Haggar’s remarks in good part and leave the contemptible work of clerks, newspaper sellers, etc., for the independent and manly field-work. They have before them the brilliant example of Mr. Joseph Royeppen who, though a barrister, took up hawking and latterly did manual work on the Passive Resistance Farm.”5

Today India’s is one of the most popular sports league in the India, and is home to some of India's most famous football clubs. The game in India is administered by the All India Football Federation, which is affiliated with the regional Asian Football Confederation, as well as with the worldwide body FIFA. The standard of Indian football is poor. According to FIFA rankings, the national team is ranked 165th place in the world as of April 2011, and is said to struggle to qualify for both the World Cup and the Asian Cup. Part of this has been put down to the lack of opportunities for proper training and development of players in the country. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Exercise is just as essential to mankind as are air, water and food, though it is true that man cannot get on for a long time without air, water and food as he can without exercise. It is a fact of common experience, however, that one cannot enjoy really good health without exercise. We have to interpret exercise in the same way that we did “food”. Exercise does not necessarily mean moidanda, football, cricket or going out for a walk. Exercise means physical and mental activity. Just as food is necessary for the mind as much as for bones and flesh, so also is exercise necessary both for body and mind. If the body has no exercise, it is sickly and, if the mind has none, it is dull. Stupidity should also be regarded only as a kind of illness. It betrays sheer ignorance to describe as healthy a wrestler who, though adept at wrestling, is mentally a bore. There is a saying in English that he alone is healthy who has a sound mind in a sound body.”6

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “What proportion of men of high intellectual caliber shall we find among those who regularly play cricket or from among the large number who play football? In India, what do we observe as regards the mental development of the princes who give their time to sports? Again, how many of those with well-developed intellectual powers are sportsmen? Experience shows that highly intellectual men are seldom sportsmen as well. The British nowadays are very much given to sports. Their own poet, Kipling, has described these sportsmen as enemies of the mind, and adds that they will also prove themselves enemies to their country. In India, our intellectuals seem to have found a different way. They provide exercise for their minds but relatively very little or none for their bodies.”7 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I know what friend Rustomjee is when the first thing in the morning he talks about what there should be in his store and how his sons should behave towards him. If he were to suppress the talk, he would want to appear to be otherwise than he is. You should therefore cease to talk business when you cease to think it. For the time being, therefore, I expect you to discuss all your business with me. There is no wire from Pretoria yet. It is now 4.45 a.m. and the boys are preparing to walk to Durban. They will witness the football match and return in the evening.”8

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am not sure that he necessarily carries a sound mind with it. To me a sound body means one which bends itself to the spirit and is always a ready instrument at its service. Such bodies are not made, in my opinion, on the football field. They are made on cornfields and farms. I would urge you to think this over and you will find innumerable illustrations to prove my statement. Our colonial-born Indians are carried away with this football and cricket mania. These games may have their place under certain circumstances. But I feel sure that for us, who are just now so fallen, they have no room. Why do we not take the simple fact into consideration that the vast majority of mankind who are vigorous in body and mind are simple agriculturists, that they are strangers to these games, and they are the salt of the earth? Without them your and my existence would be impossibility, whereas you and I are totally unnecessary for their well-being.”9

Women's football has not had the relative head start over the rest of the world that the men's game has had, and also has not had the chance to spread through the country like its male counterpart. The game was administered by the Women's Football Federation of India from 1975 until the early 1990s when they were absorbed into the AIFF. However, there are complaints that women's football is treated as a poor relation to the men's game leading to plans to de-merge the WFFI. Some female players have become internationally recognized. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “They are made on cornfields and farms. I would urge you to think this over and you will find innumerable illustrations to prove my statement. Our colonial-born Indians are carried away with this football and cricket mania. These games may have their place under certain circumstances. But I feel sure that for us, who are just now so fallen, they have no room. Why do we not take the simple fact into consideration that the vast majority of mankind who are vigorous in body and mind are simple agriculturists, that they are strangers to these games, and they are the salt of the earth? Without them your and my existence would be impossibility, whereas you and I are totally unnecessary for their well-being.”10

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “In such schools, sports for the boys will consist in ploughing the fields. The idea that, if our boys and youths do not have football, cricket and such other games, their life should become too drab is completely erroneous. The sons of our peasants never get a chance to play cricket, but there is no dearth of joy or innocent zest in their life. Thus, it is not difficult to change the present trends in education. Public opinion must be in favour of this change. The Government then will have no option but to introduce changes. ‘Those who like the above scheme should come forward to undertake experiments on these lines while public opinion is in the making. When the people see the happy results of these experiments, they will of their own accord want to take them up. I think such experiments will not entail much expenditure. I have not, however, written this article with a commercial mentality. My chief object was to ask readers to consider the meaning of real education and I shall hold my effort to have been duly rewarded if this article is of any help to them.”11

There are many football stadiums in India, however only a few of these stadiums are of World Standards. These are namely, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi with a capacity of over 60,000 and the Ambedkar Stadium with a capacity of 20,000. The main stadium in West Bengal is Salt Lake Stadium with a capacity of 120,000. In Sikkim, the Paljor Stadium Gangtok which seats over 25,000 is famous as one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world as it is situated in the backdrop of Himalayas. In Shillong the main stadium is the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with a capacity of 25,000 standing. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I include in the term “physical training” sports, games, etc. These, too, have been little thought of. Indigenous games have been given up and tennis, cricket and football hold sway. Admittedly, these games are enjoyable.”12

“The officials in Assam are evidently unused to large demonstrations and gatherings. They have forbidden to the demonstrators the use of public grounds. The Now gong officials however positively irritated the people. The Deputy Commissioner would not allow a little platform with a canopy to be erected on the football ground, and after having allowed its use had it dismantled because, he said, the chairman of the committee was guilty of a breach of faith in that he had erected the platform.”13 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The ratepayers are all that but they require to be organized for action. Hitherto the people have been the football of officials or so-called representatives. Non-co-operation enables the people to become the players in the game. Representatives must represent or they perish.”14

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Now let us examine our body. Are we supposed to cultivate the body by playing tennis, football or cricket for an hour every day? It does, certainly, build up the body. Like a wild horse, however, the body will be strong but not trained. A trained body is healthy, vigorous and sinewy. The hands and feet can do any desired work. A pickaxe, a shovel, a hammer, etc., are like ornaments to a trained hand and it can wield them. That hand can ply the spinning-wheel well as also the ring and the comb while the feet work a loom. A well trained body does not get tired in trudging 30 miles. It can scale mountains without getting breathless. Does the student acquire such physical culture? We can assert that modern curricula do not impart physical education in this sense.”15 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If in this assembly representing the poorest of India, if in spite of these you had prize-winners from the football ground, racing ground or the cricket field, I know what some of you will feel, I know how enthusiastic you will feel. But I do not know that you understand the language of spinners and carders. I do not know whether in spite of your having gone to the Exhibition you really understand the hidden meaning of these processes. If you do, then I know that you will have the same feeling that is welling up in my breast at this moment, when I feel impelled to speak out my mind to you in spite of my weak health.”16

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am glad indeed that you are giving due attention to athletics and I congratulate you upon acquitting yourselves with distinction in games. I do not know whether you had any indigenous games or not. I should, however, be exceedingly surprised, and even painfully surprised, if I were told that before cricket and football descended upon your sacred soil; your boys were devoid of all games. If you have national games, I would urge upon you that yours is an institution that should lead in reviving old games. I know that we have in India many noble indigenous games just as interesting and exciting as cricket or football, also as much attended with risks as football is, but with the added advantage that they are inexpensive, because the cost is practically next to nothing.

My own recollection is that I had not any high regard for my ability. I used to be astonished whenever I won prizes and scholarships.  But I very jealously guarded my character. The least little blemish drew tears from my eyes. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to merit, a rebuke, it was unbearable for me. I remember having once received corporal punishment. I did not so much mind the punishment, as the fact that it was considered my desert. I wept piteously. That was when I was in the first or second standard. There was another such incident during the time when I was in the seventh standard. Dorabji Edulji Gimi was the head master then. He was popular among boys, as he was a disciplinarian, a man of method and a good teacher. He had made gymnastics and cricket compulsory for boys of the upper standards. I disliked both. I never took part in any exercise, cricket or football, before they were made compulsory. My shyness was one of the reasons for this aloofness, which I now see was wrong. I then had the false notion that gymnastics had nothing to do with education. Today I know that physical training should have as much place in the curriculum as mental training.”17

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “It was open to the Viceroy to disarm me by freeing the poor man’s salt, tax on which costs him five annas per year or nearly three days’ income. I do not know outside India anyone who pays to the State Rs. 3 per year, if he earns Rs. 360 during that period. It was open to the Viceroy to do many other things except sending the usual reply. But the time is not yet. He represents a nation that does not easily give in, that does not easily repent. Entreaty never convinces it.  It readily listens to physical force. It can witness with bated breath a boxing match for hours without fatigue. It can go mad over a football match in which there may be broken bones. It goes into ecstasies over blood-curdling accounts of war. It will listen also to mute resistless suffering. It will not part with the millions it annually drains from India in reply to any argument, however convincing. The Viceregal reply does not surprise me.”18

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I am not able to appreciate your presentation of the football to the Harijan boys. For a country like India a ball that costs Rs. 4 to Rs.  5 is an expensive thing. Harijan boys will have footballs given to them by patrons. Servants have got to exercise the greatest care and discretion in their service, especially when it is they who have to make the choice.”19 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Have quarrels started even on the football ground? So be it.  Certainly do what you think best. I have no desire at all to guide you from here, nor wish to criticize your actions. I want nothing but that you should be completely independent. It is not desirable that every day you should have to think what I would say. I want you always to do what seems proper and right to you. Progress for you two lies in your doing so. Who will guide you after my death? God is the only true guide. You should, therefore, pray to Him every day. You should daily pray, “Let your will be mine”, and then act with faith that the Lord dwelling in your heart will guide you rightly without fail.”20 

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Kanu is enjoying himself. He takes full advantage of the tricycle. Plays football, too. Daily accompanies me on my walks.  Drinks plenty of milk these days. Gets enough fruit as well. Eats rotli made of bran. Heartily relishes milk and fruit. You have not the slightest cause to worry about him. Nanavati teaches him. Lilavati teaches him arithmetic. Even apart from this, he learns something or other from everybody.”21 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Study with care and improve your handwriting. Tell Kanam4 that I understand that they could not secure a football there.”22

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The British people apply the same laws to the game of politics that they apply to the game of football which I believe is their invention. They give no quarter to the opponent and ask for none.”23 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Kanam is enjoying himself. Gosibehn and Perinbehn3 are at present here. He gets on well with them. Gosibehn tells him stories.  And if he is told stories he needs nothing else. His real education consists of stories, football and kite-flying. The regular lessons of course go on. But if he does not find these as interesting as stories, I consider it a shortcoming on the part of the teacher.”24 Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Similarly, the British Prime Minister is responsible for everything that is happening in Jaipur. The making of Seth Jamnalalji a football to be kicked out of Jaipur every time he dares to exercise the right of entering his birth-place is surely worse than unseemly.”25 So we can say that Mahatma Gandhi had done a great work for progressing this game.





  1. VOL. 4 : 23 MAY, 1904 - 4 NOVEMBER, 1905, Page- 75
  2. VOL. 4 : 23 MAY, 1904 - 4 NOVEMBER, 1905, Page-  79
  3. VOL. 7 : 15 JUNE, 1907 - 12 DECEMBER, 1907, Page-  66
  4. VOL. 10 : 5 AUGUST, 1909 - 9 APRIL, 1910, Page-  81
  5. Indian Opinion, 3 -9-1910
  6. VOL. 13 : 12 MARCH, 1913 - 25 DECEMBER, 1913, Page-  63
  7. VOL. 13 : 12 MARCH, 1913 - 25 DECEMBER, 1913, Page-  65
  8. LETTER TO HERMANN KALLENBACH; September 10, 1913
  9. VOL. 14 : 26 DECEMBER, 1913 - 20 MAY, 1915, Page-  403
  10. VOL. 14 : 26 DECEMBER, 1913 - 20 MAY, 1915, Page-  404
  11. VOL. 15: 21 MAY, 1915 - 31 AUGUST, 1917, Page-  257
  12. VOL. 16 : 1 SEPTEMBER, 1917 - 23 APRIL, 1918, Page-  92
  13. VOL. 24 : 22 JULY, 1921 - 25 OCTOBER, 1921, Page-  148
  14. VOL. 25 : 27 OCTOBER, 1921 - 22 JANUARY, 1922 1
  15. VOL. 34 : 11 FEBRUARY, 1926 - 1 APRIL, 1926, Page-  335
  16. The Hindu, 9-7-1927
  17. With Gandhiji in Ceylon, pp. 107
  18. Young India, 12-3-1930
  19. LETTER TO DIWAKAR SINGH; March 22, 1933
  21. LETTER TO NIRMALA GANDHI; January 31, 1937
  22. LETTER TO MANU GANDHI; March 17, 1937
  23. Harijan, 22-5-1937
  24. LETTER TO NIRMALA GANDHI; September 18, 1937
  25. The Hindustan Times, 10-2-1939



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