The world governing body football, FIFA has showered rich accolades for Mission XI Million to set groundbreaking milestones for football participation in India.
Over 11 million boys and girls have taken part in the programme across India.
Mission XI Million was the dream project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An ambitious project, launched “to create awareness about the FIFA Under-17 World Cup”, is seen as a legacy of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
A FIFA report on its official website, while acknowledging the initiative has stated that it was an ambitious project for India: to bring the fun and enjoyment of football to as many children as possible in the second most populous country in the world.
The project, called Mission XI Million (MXIM), not only did reach its goals, it far exceeded the targeted 11 million figure, states the report.
Coupled with the great interest that Indians showed for this year’s U-17 World Cup, MXIM successfully engaged the country’s youth with the beautiful game, seeing 11,008,561 children taking part in the programme.
As part of the legacy of hosting this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, which was the first time that the South Asian nation played host to a FIFA competition, the Government of India and All India Football Federation embarked on an initiative that became the country’s largest school contact programme. The aim was to improve the football culture of India, build the football ecosystem, and ultimately widen the talent pool for their various national teams.
From December 2016 to October 2017, MXIM used a three-stage approach to bring football activities to their stated target of over 11 million boys and girls in India. This included instruction and equipment for teachers and principals of schools that registered for the programme, the in-school implementation of those football activities by trained teachers, and the participation of selected children in the MXIM Football Festivals that took place around the country.
For Joy Bhattacharjya, Project Director of the India 2017 Local Organising Committee, MXIM not only provided more playing opportunities, it overcame certain perceptions that Indians had about football. “We discovered that the two biggest problems in Indian football were the gatekeepers for football were the parents and the teachers in schools, and if they didn’t allow kids to play, they wouldn’t play,” FIFA.com has quoted Bhattacharjya as saying. “The second thing and this may come as a surprise, was the fact that they believed that if you didn’t have large fields for an 11 versus 11 game, you couldn’t play football.
“We had this entire movement of converting and rewarding the ecosystem. Rewarding kids is easy enough, as kids want to play football, but we rewarded teachers and (school) principals for allowing kids to play. We gave them footballs and we gave them very simple instructions on how you can organise very basic 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and 4-on-4 games. We said you don’t need a large space.”
MXIM’s groundbreaking impact can be further understood in the youngsters (pictured above) that reached each ‘Million Milestone’ in the programme. Srijana Subba (Million 1), Babul Sandil (Million 2), Pulkit Jangid (Million 3), Rafiya Fatima (Million 4), Kajal (Million 5), Chirag Chauhan (Million 6), Sannidhya Pal (Million 7), Samina Fatima (Million 8), Sharubam Thoibi Devi (Million 9), Idyamary Naidu (Million 10), and Bexan (Million 11) personified landmarks that show football may indeed be taking over India, as a certain U-17 World Cup hashtag declared in October, says the FIFA report.
While it remains to be seen whether these ‘Million Milestone’ players or their fellow programme participants have big futures in the game, MXIM’s legacy may prove to be the start of a pathway to a bright future for Indian football.