Indian Football League – Who Will Think Big?
Life after cricket:
Which is the most popular sport in India? OK, that's a no-brainer. Now will you tell me which one will be the most popular sport in this country after another 5 years? Is it a bit difficult? That's a no-brainer too for Zee-Essel group's chairman Subhash Chandra as he is busy signing international players with million dollar contracts believing the passion for this game in the country will help his new cricket league to be a great success.
Let's leave cricket for a while. Now if you plan for Rs. 100 crore project for a sport like the Zee chairman did, which one will you bet? Shakrukh Khan as a hockey coach in his latest hit film, Chak De India and Indian hockey team's recent Asia cup victory, would have inspired many to name our national sport, hockey as the first choice. But is the interest in the sport growing in the country? ESPN-Star in association with Indian Hockey Federation created a professional league, Premier Hockey League (PHL) in 2005 with lots of innovations to draw the youngger generation into the game. However this had not increased the fan following for the game significantly.
Football – Growing interest:
There is one sport that is steadily growing in India; despite the national team's absence in major global tournaments is Football. Many urban kids are keenly following the action in English Premier League and other major league soccer tournaments in Europe. Also there is very good corporate support for our National Football League. Mallya owns the most popular Kolkatta club, KingFisher East Bengal, Mahindra Group sponsors another top club Mahindra United and Zee Television sponsored the Goa based club, Churchil Brothers few years back.
Team India – Standings:
India's current FIFA ranking is 151. However a decade back they had their best rank of 94. So as the interest for the soccer grows in the country, it is sad to note that the team's performance has been deteriorating over the years. What's heartening now is the team's recent victory against Syria to clinch the Nehru cup for the first time in history. 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 great fan following now, but the challenge is to improve the standard of game in the country. Kids who can very well tell each and every player and their positions in teams like Manchester United or Chelsea can not even name four or five players in the Indian National Football team. And not many are aware of our own National Football League (NFL) championship.
Also foreign players playing in our clubs are not quite popular in the international arena. Employing ICL's strategy of including renowned retired professionals will work wonders for Football, but none of the clubs have the budget to do it. At least they could plan for some guest appearances or some exhibition matches involving international stars to create more interest in the National Football League.
Who will think big?
Now that Mallya who sponsors two major soccer clubs is busy with his Formula-one plans after the Spyker deal and Zee Sport's Subhash Chandra who had a 10 year contract with All India Football Federation to telecast the domestic tournaments, is busy with ICL's inaugural Twenty20 tournament , will someone think big to take the game in the country to the next level?
I'm 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 rankings of 26?