The success of the Indian Super League (ISL) has confirmed that India has been a sleeping giant of world football, and that there’s huge potential for the sport in the country waiting to be tapped. But while the ISL did a good job of bringing football into the limelight in India, the real development of the sport will happen only if the work begins from the grassroots.
Realizing the importance of having a solid base at the youth level, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) along with Coca-Cola (who have been one of the oldest corporate partners of FIFA have been conducting tournaments to identify talent among the young aspiring footballers.
The Coca-Cola Cup acts as the national U-15 football championships in the country, and the participation levels in the tournament have been nothing short of phenomenal. The primary objectives of the Coca-Cola Cup are to identify talent in the Under-15 segment to develop a healthy sports culture in the country, and also to build a strong side to represent India in the 2017 Under-17 FIFA World Cup.
The importance of developing grassroots sports cannot be undermined because of the following reasons:
1. Helping talent realize its potential
Traditionally, football at the grassroots level in India has been largely neglected and untapped. The budding young footballers need access to proper training and infrastructure in order to hone their skills and be able to ultimately realize their potential, which they miss out on due to monetary reasons and/or absence of proper facilities.
By providing access to world-class training and infrastructure to everyone, it becomes easier to identify the right talent from a wider pool, and to give the deserving youngsters the required training which would help them develop into successful footballers.
2. Providing an alternative career opportunity
Much to the relief of youngsters who are averse to theoretical education and rote learning, football offers an alternative career to them. Traditionally, sports haven’t been considered as a viable career option, especially in rural India, and many talented teenagers have been forced to quit their athletic pursuits in order to be able to earn a livelihood through conventional jobs.
But a developed football infrastructure means that a youngster can look to build a career and earn a livelihood through the sport – not only as a player, but also in the roles of coach and administrator.
3. Helping in the overall development of an individual
The benefits of sports education aren’t just limited to the development of physical skills and abilities. Youth sports teach discipline, adherence to rules, hard work and team work, and help build character in a youngster.
Sports education aids in the holistic development of an individual, thereby leading to youngsters becoming better citizens.
4. Creation of a market for football
Developing football at the grassroots level ultimately creates a larger market for the sport, and leads to the setting up of a thriving sports industry, while also generating jobs. Apart from earning a livelihood by playing the sport, people can also find jobs in different roles at football academies, and also in the sports goods manufacturing industry, whose demand can only go up with more youngsters playing football.
5. Helping build a strong football side to represent India
Lastly and most importantly, grassroots football in India would lead to the development of a strong and talented pool of talented youngsters, out of whom some will go on to represent the national team and bring laurels to the country in international tournaments. That in turn will help cement India’s place among the global football elite.
As the popular saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. The quest to have world-class football players in India necessitates that the work should start at the grassroots level, with players being trained from an early age so that they are ready to play for the country when they reach their prime. The teenagers playing in the Under-15 tournaments this year will be groomed to represent India in the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, as India looks to target qualification for the FIFA World Cup in the next decade.