It looks to be an exciting time for Indian football. If the ISL has shown us anything, it is that there is certainly a market for The Beautiful Game in this country of sports-mad fanatics.
But as the gloss from the event wears off, we see that there is still so much for us to do. The Indian national football team has plummeted to an all-time low of 171 in the FIFA rankings. Fortunately, wiser minds have already put in place a framework from which to build on.
In 2009, Coca-Cola joined hands with the All India Football Federation to give the AIFF’s U-16 tournament a boost. The tournament, which is known today as “The Coca-Cola Cup”, has grown exponentially over the last few years. Today, schools from over 86 cities, spread across 29 states in the country, look forward to the annual event.
Youngsters in the age category 12-15 years have the chance to prove themselves on the national stage. This tournament remains the talent pool from which the India U-16 national team is drawn, but the potential benefits to the next generation go beyond spots in academies and national teams.
The Coca-Cola Cup exposes the youngsters/players to a climate that actively promotes their talents on a football field, with much-needed confidence, along with the belief that a career in football is a dream worth chasing. There can be no doubt that the tournament has a certain reach and credibility that appeals to the younger generation.
Ventures such as the Coca-Cola Cup can end up having far reaching consequences. Despite the sport of cricket holding pre-eminence in the country, there is a lot of untapped potential for other sports when it comes to this country of a billion. And as the most popular sport in the world, football is best placed to have a rise that could well be meteoric. Moreover, the potential domino effect on other sports could even see India be counted as a sporting powerhouse in the years to come.
The crowds that we saw for the ISL, especially in traditional footballing strongholds such as Kerala, Kolkata and Goa, show that there is incredible passion for the game among the people. The ISL and the Coca-Cola Cup have provided a platform from which there has emerged genuine pride in the performances of local players, who may one day go on to represent the country internationally.
The timing is crucial. With India all set to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017, there can be nothing better to set off a spark that could burn bright for years to come. In two years’ time, a host of next-big-thing in world football will touch down in India, so now is the perfect time to hunt for the young talents that could make the host country proud in 2017.
Through initiatives like the Coca-Cola Cup, a foundation for a strong sporting culture in the social fabric of the country is being established. The sporting heroes that this country has had have often had to fight alone against tough odds to thrive. Imagine then what the next generation of sporting heroes could achieve, now that their dreams are being nurtured and backed with the conviction they deserve.