India has been termed the sleeping giant of world football by FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) president Sepp Blatter, and to awaken the dormant potential of the region, the international football association has launched a new program in partnership with the football associations of seven Indian states.
FIFA and All India Football Federation delegates, who were in Mumbai for AIFF Strategic Plan, a program for the development of football in the states, concluded their visit with an interaction with the media at the Cooperage ground in Mumbai on Sunday.
As part of this one-year agenda, Maharashtra, Kerala, Mizoram, Goa, Delhi, Assam and Bengal have been shortlisted by the AIFF to receive financial as well as technical assistance.
Dr Shaji Prabhakaran, FIFA's regional development officer (South and Central Asia), said on Sunday that he is on a fact-finding mission to understand the problems that plague Indian football, and to deal with the issues, a technical officer will be appointed in each of these seven states to ensure results at the end of the program.
Prabhakaran stressed that in the last three days since he was in Mumbai, he has taken feedback from ex-players, coaches, referees to get an idea of the woes of Maharashtra football that is run by the Western India Football Association, headed by former India goalkeeper Henry Menezes.
People who follow Indian football, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, are aware of the popularity and following the game has in Mumbai and in small towns like Kolhapur and Sholapur.
Then why is football yet to catch up despite the popularity? What is it that is stopping the game from growing?
Prabhakaran took to the media to get answers to these burning questions. The media-briefing saw a role-reversal of sorts as journalists made no bones about the endless troubles of Maharashtra's football. From poor grass-roots programs to abysmal officiating by referees and unplayable ground conditions and the absence of league competitions, Prabahakaran was given a wide view of issues.
The AIFF will also appoint two officials -- technical officer and director of operation and management -- in each association to oversee of the project.
If Maharashtra is unable to deliver results within the deadline, the AIFF will then select some other state so that they have the opportunity to improve and develop.
Prabhakaran also said the program will be withdrawn if the appointed technical director fails to show results.
"FIFA will fund the program for one full year. Once a technical director is appointed (sometime in September/October) he will have to come out with an action plan by January 2016. If we see the program implemented poorly by March, we will withdraw support. It is up to the All India Football Federation to take the initiative forward," he said.
During their stay in Mumbai the delegates held meetings with all stake-holders, including government officials, clubs officials, former international and national players, visited some football facilities and finally had a discussion with the media.
Prabhakaran was of the belief that the government needs to play a proactive role in promoting football.
"It's the responsibility of the local authorities and the government to promote the sport. But, unfortunately, the government is still not serious about creating or giving an environment for children to play football," he said.
However, stoutly defending the work done by WIFA, Menezes said: "In Kolhapur, Solapur and other pockets the game is popular. These places have not been stakeholders (in the I-League). We have not put a structure to it. But in a state like Maharashtra, the logistics are huge. Even then we are marketing the game and creating properties.
"We have also tied up with portals to give instant results and Soccer Track is an app that gives results, red cards, etc. But we are struggling for finance," said Menezes.
He was of the view that WIFA has the tag of FIFA and AIFF to make the game bigger in the state.
"With the support of FIFA and AIFF we will have the expertise and a monitoring system in place. The perception of the state association will change for the good."
Prabhakaran also revealed that he met with Shiv Sena Youth wing leader Aditya Thackeray who has proposed to make Mumbai’s Andheri Sports Complex an international stadium.
"We have given him the regulations for an international stadium. He told us that by September 2016 the stadium will be ready," the FIFA representative revealed.