Grassroots Development: Key To Success For Indian Football

Saturday, 23 August 2014|Prof. Ankan Banerjee

The President of FIFA, Mr. Sepp Blatter, once called Indian football as the ‘Sleeping Giant’. While making this statement, he probably acknowledged the fact that the sleeping giant has the ability to emerge as a superpower in the global football map. To achieve this objective of establishing a prominent place in the world of football, India needs a strong grassroots development programme. Before discussing the grassroots development initiatives and opportunities in India, it is important to understand the meaning of it.

According to the definition given by FIFA, “grassroots development plan is the strategic framework for launching, following up and rolling out grassroots activities throughout the country. It is the outcome of study, evaluation and consultation. It sets out the goals and actions which will drive towards achieving the defined objectives. It is implemented by the technical department with continuous evaluation of progress and adaptation against outlined objectives.”

There is no dearth of talent in Indian football. To select and nurture those talents at the right age and with right approach, FIFA planned to set up eight regional academies in India in 2011. The places selected for the first phase of setting up academies were Delhi/NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru.

It was also decided that each academy will accommodate 30-35 boys in the age group of 14-16 years. After completing their course in the regional academies, selected boys will go to the elite academies for further development. FIFA has made a decision of investing USD 500,000 to support this initiative. The All Indian Football Federation (AIFF), the national body of football in India, is playing a crucial role in developing these talents as well.

At present, there are three regional academies operating in Navi Mumbai, Kalyani and Goa and there is one elite academy operating in Goa. These academies will surely play a significant role in producing talents who will represent India in the U-17 Football World Cup which will be held in India in 2017.

To support the existing grassroots development activities of AIFF, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) has made an agreement with the AIFF under the Australian Sports Outreach Programme (ASOP). The ASOP is an initiative by the Australian Government to support the grassroots activities of selected organizations. The benefits of this agreement are manifold, which include capacity building, organizing grassroots festivals and programmes and many other activities.

India is a country of more than one billion population. To provide a platform to the football talents of this huge population is not an easy task. Therefore, the efforts of the national federation should be supplemented by the initiatives of foreign entities and private players. The growing market of Indian football attracts the foreign organizations and private players of India to make contributions to the grassroots development in football of this country. In this section, a few of these initiatives will be discussed.

The existing opportunity of nurturing and developing talents in Indian football has attracted the renowned football clubs of English Premier League (EPL) to make investment for the benefit of Indian football. Arsenal Football Club, one of the prominent clubs of EPL, in association with India on Track, is setting up Arsenal Soccer Schools in major centres of India which will provide unique opportunity to learn football from the experts of Arsenal and from the coaches and trainers approved by them.

Manchester United Soccer School is providing an opportunity to twelve talents, selected from the ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ talent hunt programme, to train in their state of the art academy. Liverpool International Academy, with all modern infrastructural facilities, was set up in Pune on 3rd June 2014. This academy is situated at the DSK International Campus.

FC Barcelona made a landmark agreement in October 2011 with Conscient Football with an aim to train 10,000 youth in the next three years. Chelsea FC, as a part of their grassroots development activities, organized a three-day clinic in Delhi in 2013.

Most of these initiatives are short-term, while only few of them are long -term. The critics may argue that these short-term, business-centric approaches may not help Indian football in future, but these initiatives may encourage other prominent clubs and associations of the world to introduce long-term development plan at the grassroots.

The contribution made by the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in nurturing budding talents of Indian football and supplying them to the mainstream football cannot be ignored.  Till now, 200 cadets have passed out from TFA of which 130 have represented the national team.

The Sesa Football Academy, which was set up as a part of Sesa Community Development Foundation, is serving Indian football as well. Sesa has two academies. The junior level academy was set up in June 1999 at Sanquelim and the senior level academy was constituted in June 2008 in Sirsaim. The Sesa Football Academy will surely play an instrumental role in establishing a steady supply line of players to Indian football.

Indian football is progressing to a new direction. The hosting of U-17 Football World Cup will surely provide a place to the country in the football map of the world. Other lucrative properties, like the Indian Super League (ISL), will combine football with entertainment which will enhance the popularity of football in this country.

To reinforce this position, India needs improvement in many areas, one of which is comprehensive development programme at the grassroots level. The initiatives taken so far by the national federation, state associations, foreign enteritis and private players may provide a platform to some of the young talents, but the country needs more such long-term target-driven initiatives which will help the nation in establishing a strong supply line of players in future.

The author is a professor in Sports Management at the Naval Tata Centre of Excellence, IISWBM, Kolkata