The new year will bring Indian football tailwinds that we may not have for a very long time,” said Mr. Joy Bhattacharya, Project Director of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, while addressing GOAL 2016, India’s 4th International Convention on Football Business, organised here by FICCI and supported by All India Football Federation. Referring to 2017 as the year of Indian football, he said that there are very few times when there is a World Cup happening, along with full support from the government. “If we have to make it, 2017 is the year.” He further went on to add that in order to take the sport forward, it is very important to identify the right ingredients of a favourable environment.
“The biggest problem is not the kids but the gatekeepers,” he felt, referring to principals, parents and teachers. He was clear that lack of infrastructure cannot be used as an excuse. Many South American countries have infrastructure that is as poor as that of India, and the Ronaldinhos of the world learnt to play from the slums. It is passion that will drive the sport, and that does not come only from the children. They need the backing of their mentors. Hence we all have a collective responsibility to become evangelists for football. “There are those who can open the gates for the children, and we need to open their gates.” Delivering the keynote address, Mr. Sundar Raman, CEO, Reliance Sports, agreed with Mr. Bhattacharya that the ‘gatekeepers’ need to be made aware of the importance of sports. “Sport teaches you to be a better human being,” he stated. Speaking about his organisation’s involvement with sports, he said they do a lot of sports-related events, besides having a long term deep commitment with Indian football at various levels. At the grassroots level, they have a programme called ‘Young Champs’, through which they work with ISL clubs to offer full-fledged education to students between 12 and 14. They study all subjects and the institute is armed with full time sports staff. Progress is monitored through measurable parameters and performance is improved through feedback. Some students were sent abroad to play with under-13 kids from two EPL academies. “This opened opportunities and fired dreams.”
“We want to create home grown players,” continued Mr. Sundar Raman. For this, a structured training programme, which becomes the equivalent of an academic syllabus, is needed. Coaches, who are the equivalent of teachers in the classroom, need to be better motivated. Facilities should be improved not only for the players, but also for the fans. Parents need to be assured that if their kid hurts himself, he will get prompt and appropriate medical attention. It is also necessary to start clubs to take the talent forward. It would be useful to have policy guidelines that lay out these requirements, he felt. The theme address was delivered by Mr. Nitin Kukreja, Chairman, FICCI Sports Committee and CEO, Star Sports. “Football in India is at a crossroads today,” he observed. “The potential for growth is huge and always has been, and the time is right for football to become India’s number two if not the number one sport.” In his view, appropriate marketing and commercialisation can make the sport more popular. Highly trained coaching staff will be very important. Today, England has one ‘A’ licensed coach for 44000 people, while India has one for every 25 million. “This number needs to dramatically increase and change if we are serious about improving the footballing standards in this country at large.” Another requirement that he identified was the need to develop world class fan-friendly stadia.
These are one of the biggest drivers of football abroad. Yet, he felt, “nothing succeeds like success” and we have to bring India on track for the 2026 World Cup. A knowledge paper titled ‘Economics of Football Around the World’ was released by FICCI and Market4Sports. The paper explains the need to talk about economics, because while football is a game, there is an economic activity behind it. It identifies the questions that have to be addressed to increase the profile and marketability of the sport. During the panel discussion titled ‘Mission 11 Million: Getting India to Play’ that followed the inaugural session. Mr Javier Ceppi, Tournament Director, FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, disclosed that Chile has worse infrastructure than India, yet has world class players. “Infrastructure is a factor when you go to high performance, not when you start playing.” Mr Joffre Gonzalez, FC Goa player felt that ISL is now allowing children to dream big. Talking about sports science, Dr Heath Matthews, Sports Science Expert felt that it is improving dramatically in India and the catch-up is “fantastic.” The biggest barrier, he felt, is education of society.