Hosting marquee tournaments such as the U-17 FIFA World Cup next year and possibly, its U-20 version, in the near future will “exponentially enhance” the profile of football in India, feels AIFF general secretary Kushal Das.
India’s football-loving, urban youth will relish the prospect of a FIFA World Cup almost on their doorstep in Qatar, according to the All India Football Federation official.
“Over the last few years, football has emerged as a popular sport for city-based youngsters and India’s hosting of some key competitions in the years preceding the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will exponentially enhance the profile of the sport among them,” Das was quoted as saying by ‘www.sc.qa’.
Das spoke on the sidelines of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC)-partnered Soccerex 2016 Asian Forum in the city.
Das, who became the AIFF secretary in 2010 after serving as the chief financial officer of the International Cricket Council, added that the first ever FIFA World Cup in the Middle East can directly reap the benefits of its geographical proximity to the world’s second most populous country.
“The Honourable AIFF President Praful Patel has expressed his interest in bidding for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and chances are very high that India would host the tournament before Qatar hosts Asia’s second ever World Cup,” he said.
“The potential hosting of the Under-20 World Cup will give India further impetus to ramp up football infrastructure and broaden grassroots initiatives such as Mission Eleven Million, which, in turn, will help to reinforce the new metropolitan football culture.”
Das added that the sport is fast gaining in popularity in the urban cities.
“I-League champions and AFC Cup finalists Bengaluru FC have a huge fanbase that includes travelling support as well,” he said.
“The Indian Super League team from Chennai, Chennaiyin FC, has consistently had attendances of over 20,000 across all three seasons of the league. Delhi Dynamos have had reasonable crowds this year and Mumbai City FC has had capacity turnout in their new stadium.
“A substantial number of these new fans are the urban youth and they are a peaceful, fun-loving audience, with women accounting for nearly 50 percent. The emerging urban Indian football demography therefore fits in nicely with the family-oriented Middle East World Cup that is being envisaged in 2022.”
Das is confident that the recent strides made on the pitch, such as Bengaluru FC reaching the 2016 AFC Cup final and the national team’s creditable performances at the AFC U-16 Championship in Goa in September, will help popularise Indian football further.
Das said that the 2022 World Cup will be the culmination of urban India’s changing public perception of the sport.
“In Mexico 1970, when I was 10, there was no television and I listened to a live radio broadcast in Spanish of Pele playing against Italy in the final and could understand only when the commentators shouted ‘goal’.
“In Mexico 1986, some of my friends watched the magic of Maradona on colour television as 10-year-olds, but watching the greats live in the stadium was a distant dream.
“However, for Indian kids born in 2012, watching Neymar in 2022 will be almost like travelling from one Indian city to another. Living in one of the fastest growing major economies of the world, their parents will have the disposable income to travel to Qatar and the Middle East, a region with many similar cultural traits.”