Thanks to my schedule, it has been long since I had the time to watch TV. So yesterday when I had some time to myself, I decided to dedicate it exclusively to this old friend. Not so sure about what to watch (the OOH platforms have made my habits bad), I decided to settle down on Sony Liv who was showing highlights from UEFA Champions League. As the broadcast broke into a commercial, my attention was immediately drawn by the World Cup campaign launched by Sony Liv – ‘#MERIDOOSRICOUNTRY’ aptly defines the sentiment of Indians around football World Cup.
Touted as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ Football World Cup has always meant something special to me. I don’t remember the first time I kicked the ball, but I clearly remember the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico. The magic by the name of Maradona took the football fraternity by storm. Right from the press to the kids, Maradona became the toast of the footballing world. Like each and every kid, I had also tried emulating the legend on the field, hoping someday I will wear the blue jersey and represent my country in this mega international event. Life expectedly took a different turn but my passion for sports never died. I wanted to give back to the sporting community who taught me more about life than textbooks. SportzConsult is my way of contributing to the ever-buzzing and vibrant sporting community.
Over the years, development of the country along with global exposure has seen massive growth in the status of football as a major sport. A country which used to only worship cricket has given sufficient space for football to grow as one of the major sports. For a sport which is played by over 200 countries, it was a huge recognition and required validation for the country when the former FIFA President referred India as ‘A Sleeping Giant’. Ever since then, the introduction of leagues like ISL has put India on the global map which featured the best of world football. Who would have imagined the likes of Anelka, Ljunberg, Robbie Keane among the other greats of the game would grace the Indian soil and mesmerize the crowd! The success of this event can be gauged by the statement made by Star India CEO, Mr Sanjay Gupta, that the viewership of ISL in India is 20 times more than the popular English Premier League.
Hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup was also a huge step for AIFF. It not only provided the opportunity for our young players to showcase their talent on a global platform but it also established India as a country capable of hosting such a major tourney. In terms of providing opportunity, we don’t need to see beyond our goalkeeper, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthen who was called for a three-week trial by the Scottish club, Motherwell following his terrific display in the World Cup. If things work out, this young lad might just end up signing a long-term contract with the Scottish side. And when we talk about the success of the event, the numbers speak for themselves. A record number of people counting to more than 1.2 billion attended the tournament. The final also saw record attendance which led the current FIFA chief Gianni Infantino to describe the event as a ‘resounding success’.
By hosting the U-17 World Cup, India has definitely created a buzz for itself in the global footballing landscape. The participation of the Indian players has also grabbed eyeballs. So, what next? With the craze of the beautiful game increasing exponentially, India needs a strong grassroots development programs which will scout and nurture talent for the future. Once our grassroots program is set, it won’t be long before we have our own 23-member squad for World Cup. But, who will take responsibility for it? The federation, AIFF in collaboration with the state bodies can do wonders when it comes to scouting talents. By appointing scouts and coaches, it can help young Indians to achieve their goal of making football a source of livelihood by guiding them. Private bodies like Reliance Foundation, TATA Group, JSW are already contributing to the growing landscape of football, providing the young talents with much-needed exposure and boot camps.
One of the driving factors behind establishing SportzConsult as an organization was to cultivate sports at a grassroots level and make India a sporty nation. Over the period of 10 years, we have had the opportunity to associate ourselves with various forms of sports and football has been a major part of it. Right from organizing Coca-Cola Cup, India’s biggest inter-school football championship which aimed at preparing a strong U-16 Indian football team under the aegis of AIFF for 4 years where 420000 players from 2600 schools across 87 cities participated to being associated with Reliance Foundation in organizing Young Champs started with the vision to scout the top football talent in India in association with top ISL clubs with an objective to identify top footballing talent in the country. From our experiences, we have also seen that corporate firms majorly prefer football as the perfect platform for team-building exercise or to socialize with fellow professionals.
With less than a month to go for the World Cup, I believe football fever will grip Indians once again. The citizens will get polarised temporarily and passions will run high. We will see fans sharing the joys & sorrows with their adopted countries. 90 minutes of action, which might get extended by further 30 nail-biting minutes will be religiously followed for a month. And finally, the ‘Champions of the World’ will be decided on 15th July. In the end, we all will see some wonderful moments and breathtaking art taking place on the field because after all ‘football is a beautiful game.’ And somewhere deep inside my heart, I will hope that it won’t be long when the entire footballing world stands up to our national anthem, cheering our Boys in Blue because football allows you to dream. And I believe, that dream will be a reality soon.