2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, restructuring domestic football and grassroot development discussed at India Football Forum
Indian football is going through a transitional phase of progress and its graph is certainly looking upwards but there are a lot of pressing issues that need to be addressed. Dignitaries, officials, CEOs and stakeholders from the corporate world were present at the 2016 India Football Forum on November 8th to discuss agendas and discourse for the future, including the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup, Indian Super League, I-League and grassroot development.
The day-long forum, held in New Delhi, featured some of the biggest names in football, right from All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel, UEFA Head of Stakeholders Affairs Alex Phillips, AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das, FIFA U-17 World Cup Project Director Joy Bhattacharya, FIFA Regional Development Officer Shaji Prabhakaran, U-17 FIFA World Cup Local Organising Committee Tournament Director Javier Ceppi and La Liga International Development Managing Director Vicente Casado Salgado among others.
Proceedings started with Indian Sports Minister Vijay Goel making an inaugural address,followed by a panel discussion on how big events can help popularise football in the country. Issues from branding, marketing and footballing perspectives were discussed in addition to how the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 could be an inflection point for Indian football. Big tournaments, especially like the FIFA U-17 World Cup, has the potential to inspire an entire generation to take up the most popular sport in the world.
Furthermore, the tournament will give India a chance to witness stars who could go on to become the next Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Toni Kroos or Cesc Fabregas. Not only this, it will be the first time an Indian team will be participating in a FIFA World Cup and their success could make people believe that Indian football has a realistic and solid future. Dave Thomas, Managing Director of adidas Group India, spoke about how creating heroes through branding could be key and how the German brand seeks to change things in that aspect.
An important part of the day came when Alex Phillips, Head of Stakeholder Affairs at UEFA, shed light on how India can work towards realising the country’s huge potential in football in the long run. “We want to make football the most popular sport in India and China. I have been speaking to a lot of people about the potential both of these countries possess and most believe China has more. However, I believe India, due to a few reasons, has more potential than China.
In the first place, India is going to overtake China in the coming years in terms of population. The diversity, in terms of people, language and age, is quite a lot in India and that is a huge advantage. There is a big English speaking population in the country and they have a better understanding of team sport, not just because of cricket but hockey and several other sports.”
Nitin Kukreja, CEO of Star Sports, spoke about how Indian football needs heroes for it to become a national phenomenal. He described how sports like kabaddi and hockey have managed to perform exceptionally well. Kushal Das, AIFF General Secretary, mentioned the kind of steps being taken by the federation to spread the sport across various geographic regions and raise its standards in the country.
A really interesting discussion followed the one on “Building the Future” and panelists including Javier Ceppi and DSK Shivajians CEO Neel Shah contemplated the development of infrastructure throughout the country. Ceppi, with absolute candor and straightforwardness, explained how the stadiums in India are built for VIPs and not for athletes, who form the most important component of the sport.
“Stadiums in India are built for VIPs and not for the sport. When you go into a stadium with a capacity of 58000 that costs around 200 million dollars. You see that the stadium has two dressing rooms and there are three showers. There is no respect for athletes whatsoever. In the end, it is all about the 22 players on the pitch. The fact that there is a VIP lounge better than dressing rooms shows what are the prioritie,” he said.
Chirag Tanna, General Manager for Sports at Reliance India Limited, traced the road map for the future structure of Indian football, including the possibility of the stretching the ISL and introducing relegation among divisions. He also spoke about how the game should be promoted at school level, more than anything else, along with the promotion of women’s football in the country.