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Indian Football League – Who Will Think Big?
Life After Cricket:
What is the most popular sport in India? OK, that’s a no-brainer. Now you tell me what will be the most popular sport in this country in another 5 years? Is it a bit difficult? It’s a no-brainer even for Zee-Essel group chairman Subhash Chandra as he is busy signing international players to multi-million dollar contracts, believing the passion for the game in the country will help his new league of cricket be a great success.
Let’s leave cricket for a while. Now if you plan for Rs. 100 crore project for a sport like Chairman Zee did, which one will you bet on? Shakrukh Khan as a hockey coach in his latest hit movie, Chak De India and the Indian hockey team’s recent win in the Asia Cup would have inspired many to name our national sport, hockey as their first choice. But is interest in the sport growing in the country? ESPN-Star in collaboration with the Indian Hockey Federation created a professional league, the Premier Hockey League (PHL) in 2005 with many innovations to attract the younger generation to the game. However, this did not significantly increase fan attendance for the game.
Soccer – Growing Interest:
There is a sport that is constantly growing in India; despite the absence of the national team in major world tournaments, it is Football. Many urban children are keenly following the action in the English Premier League and other major football league tournaments in Europe. There is also very good corporate support for our National Football League. Mallya owns Kolkata’s top club KingFisher East Bengal, Mahindra Group sponsors another top club Mahindra United and Zee Television sponsored Goa-based club Churchil Brothers a few years ago.
Team India – Ranking:
India’s current FIFA ranking is 151. However a decade ago they had their best ranking of 94. So while the interest in football grows in the country, it is sad to note that the team’s performance has deteriorated over time of years. What is encouraging now is the team’s recent victory against Syria to win the Nehru cup for the first time in history. I hope they will continue to perform well in their World Cup qualifier against Lebanon next month.
National Football League – what next?
Well, it is true that Football has a huge following now, but the challenge is to improve the standard of the game in the country. Children who can very well tell each player and their positions in teams like Manchester United or Chelsea, cannot even name four or five players in the Indian national football team. And not many are aware of our National Football League (NFL) championship.
Also, the foreign players who play in our clubs are not well known in the international arena. Using the ICL’s strategy of bringing in famous retired professionals will do wonders for football, but none of the clubs have the budget to do so. At least they can plan for some guest appearances or some exhibition games involving international stars to generate more interest in the National Football League.
Who will think too much?
Now that Mallya who sponsors two major football clubs is busy with his Formula 1 plans after the Spyker deal and Zee Sport’s Subhash Chandra who had a 10-year contract with the All India Football Federation to telecast the tournaments native, is busy with the inaugural ICL Twenty20 tournament. , will anyone think hard to take the country game to the next level?
I am not dreaming of Team India competing equally with Italy or France, but at least will they emerge as a top team in Asia from their current Asian ranking of 26?
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