A slew of changes are expected in this year’s I-League as the AIFF and the participating clubs along with the marketing partners IMG Reliance have drawn up ambitious plans for the organization and conduct of this year’s League. A major boost this year was the announcement by AIFF that 75 matches will be telecast live by Ten Action Plus and Ten Sports, giving a major boost to the League.
The marketing partners IMG Reliance have also planned a gala opening ceremony on the 22nd of October at Salt Lake stadium, Kolkata before the East Bengal – Churchill Brothers game. The prize money of this year’s League has also been hiked to 70 lacs while the runners-up will get Rs. 40 lacs. In addition the third, fourth and fifth placed teams will get Rs. 40 lacs, 25 lacs and 15 lacs. For winning each game the club will get Rs. 35,000, the same as last time while the Man of The Match will also get Rs. 5,000 similar to last year.
At a meeting of the Goan clubs participating in the I-League, Mr. Sunando Dhar, CEO of I-League, informed the club officials that IMG has drawn up grand plans for this year’s League thereby improving the profile of the game significantly. He also informed that a title sponsor has been found and it would be announced shortly. The official unveiling of the new I-League logo will happen at a meeting of the I-League clubs on the 14th of October in New Delhi to be chaired by the President of the AIFF, Mr. Praful Patel. This year the AIFF has also decided to give representations to each of the I-League clubs in the new committee and clubs will have a better say in the conduct and functioning of the League.
The new sponsor for the I-League is also expected to be announced in the coming days. The TV broadcasters have given the I-League two slots for the matches to be telecast at 3:30 pm and 6:30 pm. Matches at Salt Lake stadium Kolkata, Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune and the municipal stadium in Calicut are expected to be played in the 6.30 pm slot. Floodlights in Goa are expected to be ready by the 4th of December, which means that Goan football fans will have the privilege of witnessing a football game under floodlights for the first time in six years.
According to the Sports Authority of Goa (SAG), the floodlights at the Nehru Stadium in Margao could be completed by the 27th of November 2011, the date of the friendly between India and Zambia, to be held to commemorate the 50 years of Goa’s liberation. It also coincides with the Goa Football Association’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. That should give a major boost to football lovers in Goa who are used to watching the premier competition in Indian football under the scorching afternoon sun.
IMG has also decided to professionalize the conduct of the League. According to what was discussed at the meeting, there would be a pre-match conference on the eve of the game just after the manager’s meeting. During the warm-up before the game there would be a flash interview with a player and the coach of the teams, while the post match conference would be held after the game. All these aspects related to media would be handled by the media officer of the club who will coordinate the entire proceedings along with the broadcasters. Duly signed accreditation cards will be issued for all officials from this year onwards giving a truly professional look to the game and the League.
From this year onwards, organization of the I-League games have been allotted to the home teams unlike the previous years where it was organized by the state associations. The AIFF had announced a couple of months back that world over, the league matches were organized by the respective home teams and hence they have directed the clubs to organize their own home matches. The rationale behind this decision was that by organizing home games, the clubs will be in a better position to control the finances and would also hold the upper hand with respect to stadium branding and marketing.
However a major obstacle in this regard was that unlike in Europe, clubs in India do not own their stadiums. A similar situation exists in Goa and Kolkata where one stadium is shared between four clubs each. In Goa, Dempo Sports Club, Salgaocar Sports Club and Churchill Bothers Sports Club have decided to organize the matches under a common body i.e., GFA with active participation from its club members. However Sporting Clube de Goa has decided to host the matches all alone, which is indeed commendable.
A study tour of the J-League, considered the best in Asia and the seventh best in the world was also organized by the AIFF and the I-League department in late September where two representatives of each club were sent to observe how the matches a the various stadiums were organized and the nitty gritty of marketing, branding etc. What the club officials and representatives of the I-League saw was something amazing. The degree of professionalism with which matches were organized in Japan and the truly professional manner in which the clubs functioned was a great learning experience for the officials from India. Some of the ideas from Japan will surely be implemented with some of the Goan clubs contemplating on organizing various entertainment programmes before and during half time of the game.
A truly exciting I-League beckons us. Hopefully the tour to Japan and the roping in of a reputed company like IMG will help professionalize Indian football and bring it on a global stage. This year will be crucial for Indian football as Robert Baan has recently inked a 2-year deal with the AIFF as the Technical Director, which is a huge boost to Indian football. The Dutch maestro’s expertise and knowledge of having worked with the Football Federation of Australia, the Dutch football Association, PSV Eindhoven as well as having coached players like Robin Van Persie will surely help Indian football in the long run.
Savio Medeira too it seems will emerge out of the shadows of Bob Houghton and Armando Colaco to be the next India coach. Then we have the four academies due to start from May next year to look forward to, that will hopefully be talent factories and churn out a large number of national team players. The Cooperage stadium in Bombay will sport a new look along with an artificial turf and floodlights by January next year while the Bangalore Football Stadium in Bangalore already boasts of an artificial turf.
The return of Shillong Lajong will definitely boost TRP’s and the club from north-east will look forward to another record-shattering gate collection to go with the Rs. 93 lacs odd gate collection they received in the 2009-10 season But Indian football faces its sternest test ever from the public, majority of whom follow European football. Will the broadcast go the Zee Sports way? Or will the broadcast and conduct of this year’s league be a defining moment in Indian football. For the sake of millions of Indian’s who swear by the Climax Lawrence’s, the Mehtab Hossain’s and the Jeje Lalpejklua’s rather than the Messi’s and the Ronaldo’s, one hopes it gives them a return on the hours they have spent at Salt Lake and Fatorda, shunning the European Leagues to cheer their very own.