All India Football Federation president Praful Patel talks about why FIFA is keen to tap the potential in the country,while saying,with guarded optimism,the road ahead for Indian football is full of opportunities but fraught with challenges.
Why did the AIFF/India decide to bid for the Under-17 World Cup?
FIFA advised that hosting the Under-17 World Cup will help India build a young team. For many countries in the process of developing football,the Under-17 tournament is a stepping stone. FIFA promised support for our bid. It is also important for FIFA,in the long run,to have a country like India,with so many people,involved in the game. We have been able to bring everybody together to recognise Indias potential.
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How will hosting the Under-17 World Cup help the development of the game?
Once we build a strong Under-17 team,those players will move to the Under-22,Under-23 and the senior team. We have seven to eight years to build a team with the potential to qualify for the senior World Cup in 2022. Now,we are also bidding for the 2015 and 2016 Club World Cups. If we host the Club World Cup,the winner of the I-League will get to play in it because India is the host country. It will motivate I-League clubs and an average football fan can watch world-class football live in India rather than on television. Spectator interest,in turn,will also bring in commercial partners. Currently,it is a chicken and egg situation whether the money comes first or the game improves first. Without the money,the game doesnt improve.
Are you confident of the eight venues short-listed for the
Under-17 World Cup getting FIFA clearance?
We can host the tournament with two to three stadiums. It is up to the state governments to ensure that existing stadiums are upgraded. Right now,there are no dedicated football stadiums owned by state associations. Bangalore has its own stadium but it is not in good shape and in Mumbai,temporary structures are coming up but it is not up to world standard. Venues that dont satisfy FIFA standards will be out of the reckoning to host the Under-17 World Cup. Infrastructure will be inspected towards the end of 2015 and it will be embarrassing for a particular state if FIFA does not clear their stadium. But we will 100 per cent host the Under-17 World Cup.
How difficult was it to get all the clearances that FIFA required for the Under-17 World Cup?
The AIFF was able to bring the Under-17 World Cup to India by ensuring the backing of FIFA and AFC. The FIFA requirements for documentation and government guarantees are very vast,and had to be cleared by the union cabinet. It helps if a politician is in charge. People say someone like Baichung Bhutia should head AIFF. But I dont think he can do my job and I cannot do his job.
How dependent is the AIFF on the money that comes from the IMG-Reliance tie-up?
We (AIFF) have limited resources and receive no funding from the government. We are dependent on Reliance. In football,sponsors dont come in easily,so we have to work with whoever is our commercial-rights partner.
So according to you,the IMG-Reliance Indian Super League is vital to Indian football.
Money is not available and no sponsor wants to invest in a game that is developing. The IMG-Reliance tournament will generate viewer interest in the game and in turn,commercial entities will invest. It will trickle down to the I-League. The I-League has not generated money,so we need a new format to get sponsors interested.
But what about future of I-League?
We have a new club in Bangalore FC. There is also interest from Chennai and Kochi to own I-League clubs. I can only say that clubs have to find ways to make money. They don’t market themselves well,they dont sell their seats in stands,they dont market their rights. They need to work on this much more.