With cricketers, Bollywood stars owning stakes in new IPL-style league, football is poised for change.
As one of the dominant ODI opening partnerships of all time, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly pioneered a new era in Indian cricket in the late 1990s. It will now be observed with some interest if the duo can trigger a similar change in fortunes in Indian football after being named “partners” for two franchises in the Indian Super League (ISL).
For far too long, the most popular global game has remained on the fringes of Indian sport. The stakeholders have run out of ideas and despite the intervention of the world body, FIFA, in the last few years, the situation hasn’t improved. In spite of the interest in European football, the public hasn’t taken to the Indian version with similar enthusiasm. Potential investors in Bollywood A-listers and corporate honchos have continued to keep their distance.
That has changed now, with the involvement of two of the biggest names in Indian cricket along with top actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Salman Khan and John Abraham in the ISL. There will be a further boost if the organisers, IMG-Reliance, manage to get some of the ageing but elite players, like Thierry Henry, Michael Owen and Robert Pires, on board. Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish has, in fact, been linked to a coaching spot in the league.
The recruitment of a few semi-retired stars, however, is not the long-term solution. IMG-R will realise that one of the key reasons spectators stay away from Indian football is its shoddy quality. Here, they can take a cue from the IPL, which, despite its glamour, is played at a highly competitive level. The ISL is already treading a thin line between a serious competition and an exhibition event. Questions remain about the impact it will have but for now, the ISL does seem like a giant leap for Indian football.