The popularity of football is widespread as seen from the recent push by the Saudi Pro League teams. With popular names such as Ronaldo, Neymar, and Riyadh Mahrez making the switch, the European football world must pay attention to the new powerhouse in Asia.
But one thinks, could this not have been India? Should this not have been India?
Having founded the Indian Super League (ISL), India’s first commercial domestic football contest 10 years ago, it would be easy to think that slow and steady progress is being made. But a closer look shows a different reality. Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal manager of 22 years, recently said India is a “goldmine”. With 1.4 billion people, the opportunities are endless. However, with such a large population, identifying talent, developing football culture and building infrastructure is not so easy.
The franchise model of the ISL has led to a situation where despite consistent fan attendance and rising viewership figures, many ISL teams still report losses. FC Pune City were forced to dissolve the club in 2019 owing to financial and technical difficulties. Similarly, Delhi Dynamos had to relocate and rebrand as Odisha FC after citing financial difficulties. While ISL teams do get commercial revenue, many still run at a loss, which brings the sustainability of the league into question. Poor governance and a lack of an organised administrative structure may be cited as reasons but the real fault lies with circumstances.
India being global contenders in both cricket and hockey, it can be argued that there is no need for football. This is why cultivating an interest in football is the key. This comes through education, development and ultimately holding matches. The economic potential is bottomless.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has recognised the need for a concerted effort at all levels. They have presented a clear plan to provide education and opportunity for the development of football among youngsters. The 2047 Vision Project introduced by the AIFF aims to have 35 lakh children involved in grassroots football by 2026. There remains plenty of optimism about India’s ongoing Asian Games campaign.
The state of Indian football is certainly better than what it was 10 years ago but is still plagued with issues. A rush to commercialise domestic football has led to a league which seems unsustainable.
While the AIFF is committed to the development of football in India they must be sure to build a strong foundation upon which this new industry will sit. The chance to bring a whole new billion-dollar industry to India should not be ignored. The goal is there, India; you must shoot.
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