India had an opportunity to participate in the 1950 FIFA World Cup finals. They withdrew from the tournament for not being allowed to play barefoot. Sixty seven years later, history beckons India – all set to make their debut in the FIFA World Cup Finals – under-17 age group, though – as the hosts of the 24-nation global football meet.
For Indian football, the opportunity brings much more than the pride of participation in the FIFA World Cup Finals. As the future stars of the game engage over the 52 games, involving 24 teams, India is stand to gain the most for future of the sport in the country. The 22 days of action across six cities and four geographical zones are set to create an eco-system of football that will be somewhat akin to what 1983 World Cup triumph has done for cricket, what Saina’s rise to the podium in London Olympics and Indian Badminton League a year later has done for the shuttle sport.
Even before the ball gets rolling at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the Capital on Friday, football as a sport has drawn an unprecedented attention. Commercial and sporting gains are bound to follow. The success of the Under-17 finals will be determined by the conduct of various sporting and administrative agencies over the next three weeks, but India has already shared its interest to bid for the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Finals.
To make it a memoir of sports in India, the Union Government, backed by the Prime Minister himself, has come forward to support the tournament and make sure this doesn’t end here. This is evident that the current tournament is set to leave a legacy with potential to change the football scenario in India. From infrastructure to corporate and administrative approach, all are set to change for the betterment of the game. Here are five major gains that will have long lasting impact to push India towards being a global football entity.
HEIGHTENED ATTENTION FROM GOVERNMENT
Never before has the Government (Centre and States, alike) given this much attention to football in India. This heightened attention and substantial investment into football is happening due to India hosting the FIFA U17 World Cup 2017. Over INR 300 crore is invested by the Central and various State Governments in various aspects of hosting the finals, other aspects of FIFA U17 WC and building an India U-17 National Team for the competition. It is not only the central government but also all the State Governments hosting the World Cup games are having unprecedented considerations for the game and the tournament.
Historically, we as a nation have made significant gains from out sporting milestones – be it the first Asian Games that gave a gift like the National Stadium to change the sporting scenario in the Capital, the 1982 Asian Games or the 2010 CWG, which did not just create world class infrastructure but also witnessed the creation of a government machinery to upkeep and utilize that infra in the interest of Indian sports.
FOCUS ON YOUNG PLAYERS
In the history of Indian football, no youth team or youth players have ever got this much attention and support. Due to the FIFA U17 World Cup, 2017 youth players are getting best of attention from all quarters. The television, print media and digital media have never focused on the sports and the players the way they are going about the India Under-17 team. Half-an-hour shows and full news pages are dedicated to the bunch of youngsters that will for the first time ever represent India in a football World Cup.
This is the attention that creates heroes out of sporting talent. Captain Amarjit Singh is a household name as a teenager. This focus keeps the young talent going, gives their contemporaries and the generation to come the role models, which are the essence of growth not just for a sport but any other profession for that matter. This is what cultivates into a strong sporting culture to create a strong team.
PERCEPTION OF INDIA FOOTBALL
For the first time football world’s attention is focused on India. They are realising how popular the sport is in India. How passionately this beautiful game is followed in India. The successful conduct of the game, coupled with the tremendous fan support, will give a significant boost to the value of Indian football, irrespective of home team’s performance on the field.
Successfully organising the FIFA WC event would make India one of the favourite destinations for future global sports events. As India already applied for hosting FIFA U20 World Cup in 2019, there is a good possibility India will host the U20 World Cup in near future.
FIFA launching its twitter account in Hindi on the eve of the World Cup inauguration is one small example that how serious is the world governing body about the power of Indian football.
I was in Chile for the earlier Under-17 World Cup. There was no significant media attention there.
The media attention, ticket sales and agency support in India is unprecedented. This will open a new market for FIFA. They will not get this kind of a promise for their junior events anywhere else.
This market power converting into tremendous media and commercial values will make India a permanent destination for FIFA.
No doubt, 6 stadiums have seen significant improvement and attained FIFA standards. However, the most important development in the infrastructure part is the construction of the 24 natural pitches in these 6 venues. These newly floodlit training pitches will significantly improve football infra situation in these 6 cities. For me, the training facilities are one of the best legacies of the U-17 WC.
FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
Another impact the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017 is that the Indian football is witnessing multiple football development initiatives across various sectors. The game at the local level will see increased investment across India. This will have a great positive influence on growth of the game.
Corporate like Adidas are targeting 20-25% participation growth in football. The Team India youngsters will soon be getting lucrative ISL contracts just in their teens. The game in India has arrived in a big way. It’s momentum is here to stay. The football is all set to grow commercially.