FIFA World Cup 2018: How regional commentary captivated football fans in India and attracted new audiences

Football becomes a popular sport in India during the FIFA World Cup. Though India is not really known for its football culture, the game's quadrennial event sees people of all ages choose their favourite nations and rally behind them in the hope that their team emerge victorious.

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI), the official broadcasters of the FIFA World Cup 2018, understanding the popularity of the tournament, decided to telecast live feeds in five Indian languages – Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam.

So here’s what our Firstpost writers thought of the regional commentary that took football to hitherto unexplored territories.

FIFA World Cup 2018: How regional commentary captivated football fans in India and attracted new audiences

The FIFA World Cup Trophy. Reuters


The first thing that strikes you as you watch the match in Malayalam is that there's almost no pause taken by the commentators during the entirety of the match. They constantly roll out information ranging from the club a particular player plays for to how a result will impact the group.

The Malayalam commentary works mostly because of Shaiju Prabhakaran’s excited tone but he's well complemented by the calm and collected style of his co-commentator, K Bineesh. For every burst of passion from Shaiju, Bineesh is at hand to explain what exactly has gotten Shaiju all excited. In a way, Shaiju speaks to the passionate football-crazy Malayali who goes about painting his house in blue and gold to exhibit support to Brazil. Bineesh, in breaking down the play and explaining the genius involved in a particular move, gets the non-football fan to appreciate the game.

While the commentary is mostly in Malayalam, the commentators have to rely on English terms associated with football from time to time. However, some terms are not what fans brought up on European football will be familiar with. For starters, a back pass is called a minus in India whereas front post and back post is replaced by first post and second post. A studs-up challenge is called a studding.

The regional commentary first came into popular notice after the Shaiju’s commentary for Cristiano Ronaldo’s successful free-kick in Portugal’s match against Spain went viral.

What truly makes the Malayalam commentary special apart is the poetic description of goals. While Shaiju’s “Ronaldoooooo” call was similar to the passionate Spanish and Arabic commentators, his use of the dialogue from Rajinikanth's hit movie Kabali to describe Ronaldo's aura topped it all.

In Japan's 2-1 win over Colombia, Shaiju evoked the footballing history of the Latin American team as 10-man Colombia grabbed an equaliser. Though the translation and written form wouldn’t do justice, this is roughly what Shaiju says.

“This is the Colombia that we know of. This is Higuita's Colombia, Faustino’s Colombia, Valderrama's Colombia, the late Andres Escobar’s Colombia.”

The obvious love of the commentators for football is what makes their commentary so lovable.

— Dilip Unnikrishnan


Watching a World Cup game with Telugu commentary was a strange experience with a hint of familiarity. While the unusualness of it all made it strange, the familiarity stemmed from the mix of Telugu and English in the commentary.

To be fair, listening to the exact translation of words from English to Telugu is a bit taxing and as far as communication goes, the commentators are doing a decent job. It's also helpful that they know the sport well and they understand the dynamics of football and it shows when they pick the nitty-gritty of things happening on the field.

In terms of generating excitement, the Telugu commentators are not as good as their Malayalam counterparts. When a team scores a goal or creates a chance, the decibel levels of the Telugu commentators does rise, but when nothing much is happening on the field, they fall short in keeping the viewers entertained.

The commentators can do a lot better when it comes to research about the game. While they get their facts right about famous footballers playing in the World Cup, the viewers are left uninformed about players who are not well known.

Describing the play is just part of the job but what makes commentary really enriching is when commentators come up with little-known facts about the game, team and players.

Anish Anand


The popularity of FIFA World Cup 2018 has grown by leaps and bounds in India. As per a BARC report, the first four matches of the tournament saw a total viewership of 47.3 million, which is a phenomenal number keeping in mind the fact that football is not the most popular sport in this part of the world.

In a country like India, where so many languages exist, the agenda to provide commentary in just English was never a good idea.

We have seen how Indian Super League and Pro Kabaddi League have reached out to millions of people in India, especially in the Hindi belt of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

Likewise, a similar connect has been established with the FIFA World Cup 2018.

In Sunil Taneja, Raman Bhanot and Novy Kapadia, there is a decent set of Hindi commentators explaining the happenings beautifully. When you are catering to an audience that has not followed the sport rigorously, it is important to inform the audience and then entertain them with technicalities and other several anecdotes. That is what this trio concentrate on while commentating.

If Taneja provides bits of information related to the player, team, coaches or the history of the tournament, Bhanot keeps up with the pace of the game. Not to forget, the former's use of Hindi idioms, which helps in developing a connect with the Hindi-speaking audience.

Both Bhanot and Taneja turn to Kapadia whenever there is a requirement of an expert comment and the veteran provides deep insights and anecdotes which the more informed football audience connect with. Apart from a few technical footballing terms, you don't hear English being used, which is a good sign for Hindi in itself.

— Shubham Pandey


Tamil Nadu isn’t exactly what one thinks of when talking about football in the country. The average Tamil person might not have the unbridled passion seen in Kerala.

However, Tamil Nadu does love its sports. Be it cricket, football, hockey, kabaddi and even Jallikattu, the state follows sports with a lot of sincerity.

Following a televised sport in India, more often than not, always came with a prerequisite of knowing the English language and just like many other states in the country, there are people in Tamil Nadu who are not comfortable with the language.

It might have been just economics-driven to have sports commentary in regional languages. But it has attracted fans who were finally happy to follow a sport in the language of their knowing and choice.

While the cricket commentary in the recently-concluded Indian Premier League did manage to strike a chord with the discerning Tamil audience, the same cannot be said of the football commentary.

The team use a smattering of Tamil and English in their analysis and it is peppered with a lot more English than Tamil that almost defeats the purpose of reaching non-English speaking people. It is not just the technical terms that are in English but even conversations between both commentators and minute-by-minute analysis tend to have a lot more English in them.

It is understandable that the decision to appeal to a wider audience has made the panel avoid chaste Tamil that is usually used on All India Radio for sports commentary. However, if people who are not quite aware of English, close their eyes to just listen to the commentary and use it to paint a mental picture of the scenes unfolding on the football stadiums in Russia, the picture drawn will most probably be a dictionary for the old-timers and Google Translate for the internet generation.

Avinash Ramachandran


While Telugu and Tamil have been new additions, one of the staples since the last edition of FIFA World Cup has been Bengali commentary catering to the footballing mecca of India that Bengal is. It is a well-documented fact that the Bengalis are passionate about football – one of the oldest derbies in Asia finds it home in Kolkata. Even the average Bengali is vocal about the unwavering support for the mighty Brazil or fierce Argentina, while the newer generations find their solace in the comforts of European stars from Germany, England, Spain and so on.

And it is these sport-intellectual, cultured Bengalis who have been pleasantly surprised by the calibre of commentary of the world’s biggest sporting spectacle in their mother tongue. Crisp, accurate and easy on the ears – it isn’t just the in-game events happening in real time which are being conveyed properly, but the analytical part has been proficient as well, hitting the right note so that football enthusiasts as well as the layman can both enjoy the game.

One of the major drawbacks of regional commentary is that it is often drab for the sports-inclined audience used to a feast of international commentators and accomplished panelists, with the absence of sporting jargon in the regional commentary failing to satiate them. This year, however, the Bengali commentary has been widely appreciated, although the panelists’ penchant for excitement at certain junctures of play has bemused some.

The quality of commentary has certainly improved over the years, finding a home among the Bengali audience and is definitely one of the highlights among the broadcaster’s portfolio – the entertainment quotient is right on the money but a little more finesse would do wonders in terms of the content presentation.

Sreya Mazumder 

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 16:09:40 IST

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