The beautiful game in India has never really taken off primarily due to a sub-standard I-League coupled with mediocre performances by the national team. If awarded, the FIFA U-17 World Cup, could well prove to be the boost that Indian Football needed.
“India is a huge football market. A country of 1.2 billion cannot lag behind in football.” Jerome Valcke, Secretary General of FIFA, accurately summed up India’s potential in world football despite its current dismal stand. Regardless of a fanatic fan following, football as a sport in India never really took off. Decades of humiliating performances by the Indian national team and the substandard I-League has left India a mute spectator in the world of football. Almost every nation in the world has superseded India when it comes to the beautiful game, leaving it surrounded by obscurity, negligence and corruption, unable to compete even with teams where football is a recent phenomenon.
Over the past year and a half, FIFA, the presiding football body has recognized India as a ‘sleeping giant’ with enormous potential for football and has shown great interest in hosting the Under-17 Football World Cup in the country. Despite such keen interest from the parent football body in the world, India could not submit an official proposal until quite recently as it took time to skip past the red tapism and the nonchalant attitude of the Indian Government. Quite a lot of people have raised concerns regarding the benefits of hosting such an event, rubbishing claims that it will be a game changer for football in India.
So how important is it for a country like India to host the U-17 football world cup? In order to truly understand the importance of hosting this event, one has to have a good idea of the history of football in India. Football was introduced in India more than a century back, in the late 19th Century. Though it may come as a surprise, India, at one point of time, was a football force to reckon with in Asia and probably abroad. It is home to the third oldest football tournament in the world, the Durand Cup, and also houses one of the oldest football clubs in the world, Mohun Bagan.
So what went wrong despite such a promising start to the sport? Infrastructure is definitely one of the biggest reasons why India has failed to produce footballers of repute and international standards. Lack of football camps, proper training facilities, trained managers and coaches has crippled Indian football beyond recognition. Enthusiasm and passion for a sport is not enough to sustain and develop it in a country. The fact that the Government did not provide the youngsters with these facilities is why India is currently ranked 147 in the FIFA world rankings. And in the absence of such basic infrastructure, youngsters and football enthusiasts eventually lost interest in the sport and took to different sports such as cricket and hockey, which have reasonably better infrastructure.
And this is precisely what makes the Under-17 World Cup such a promising event and the opportunity to host it, a golden one for India. It is an attempt to start all over again, to undo all the wrongs of the past and start afresh. In order to truly develop a sport, one must begin at the grass root level and that is exactly what the Under-17 World Cup will do for India. If the bid is approved, India will have the finances to restructure and develop several stadiums, which are currently in a dismal state. Majority of the stadiums in the country do not have the basic amenities to support good quality football. Lack of floodlights, good quality playing turf and seating arrangements are few of the problems shared by stadiums across the length and breadth of the country. Since the World Cup will be played in six different cities and stadiums, India will have the opportunity to fully develop these stadiums and equip them with a good playing surface, floodlights, refurnished galleries and modern technology, along with several other advancements. And these stadiums shall prove to be the cornerstone for the growth and development of football in the country, a lasting legacy courtesy of the Under-17 Football World Cup.
Another interesting aspect of hosting the Under-17 Football World Cup is the fact that the host nation is deemed automatically qualified for the tournament. Thus India will be fielding a team in the Football World Cup, even though under the Under-17 category, a feat not achieved by the country in a painfully long time. Plans are already in the implementation stage to organize football camps across the country in order to identify and nurture young footballers who will eventually comprise the Indian Under-17 Football team. In order to do so, the football camps will be currently focusing on children from the age group of 12 to 13, which happens to be the correct age for discovering talent in individuals and cultivating them with the aim of providing the country with its future football stars.
But talent and potential alone is not enough, it is equally important to provide good training and coaching facilities and in this regard FIFA has promised to join hands with AIFF and provide them with internationally recognized football support, which means India will finally have fully trained coaches, trainers and managers who will now be equipped to guide Indian Football to a better future. Hence these young footballers will be exposed to a very different and modern point of view playing technique, coaching and training regime which will be at par with its European and South American counterpart, enabling them to understand the game better and respond accordingly. It will also provide the youngsters with the opportunity to compete against the best footballing nations in the world, thus infusing them with the self belief, confidence, and passion that will mold the future generation of footballers in the country. With FIFA’s guidance, Indian football administrators will receive a deep insight into the game and will be able to cater to the growing needs of the young footballers, another legacy that will shape the future of Indian football, courtesy of the Under-17 World Cup.
With the chance of hosting the Under-17 World Cup, comes the opportunity for India to host tourists from all over the world, thus giving tourism a boost in the country and at the same time, and perhaps more importantly, inculcating in the citizens of the country, love and passion for the beautiful game. It will inspire millions of youngsters to pick up a pair of football boots and have the confidence in themselves to become the next Messi or Ronaldo. And who knows, maybe one day they will get there.
Article Written by Guest Author Kumar Saurabh