India needs good football infrastructure, from I-League to grassroots

Comparing the business potential of football in the world's most populace countries, International Football Arena Ltd's Chairman Marcel Schmid said India could become one of the most lucrative markets of the game. "Everybody around the world knows the potential that India has with its millions of young people who are interested in sports ... India is a sleeping football giant," he said, adding that football in the cricket-mad nation "could be as big as that of the US and China."

He cited the acquisition of commercial rights to football in India for 15 years by IMG Worldwide and Reliance Industries from the All-India Football Federation as a sign of things to come. However, he also warned that "the first and the foremost thing is that we need good infrastructure, not only for the top clubs in India who play in the I-League, but also at the grassroots."

His comments at the IFA Roundtable held in Gurgaon, India were supported by Thierry Regenass, FIFA's Director Member Associations and Development Division: “We invested $8 million in infrastructure mainly to build artificial football turfs in Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Imphal and Shillong, and to renovate stadiums in Mumbai. India is famous for its bureaucracy so it took us a lot of time to get these projects off the ground. But once this is done we will look at football management in India and revenue generation. Our performance program will tackle these issues working directly with the AIFF.”

The event was also attended by representatives of AIFF, BCCI, Bharti Realty Ltd, Chelsea FC, FC Bayern Munich, Football Players Association of India, FutFire Sports India; gmp Architekten von Gerkan, Marg und Partner; IMG; Match World Ltd; Populous; Reliance Industries Limited; SE TransStadia Pvt Ltd; Shillong Lajong Football Club; United Breweries Ltd; United East Bengal Football Team Pvt. Ltd; and United Spirits.

According to IPA, other significant comments at the Roundtable included:

Graeme LeSaux, Legend, Chelsea FC, who reiterated Chelsea's intention to enter the Indian market: “We are scouting for the right partner and are in dialogue with likeminded people. It has always been Chelsea‟s endeavour to develop football around the world, and India is no exception. I's just that we need to gauge the viability and commitment of our Indian partner;”

Andy Knee, Vice President, IMG Football, who outlined the need for "commitment to development of infrastructure. Unless infrastructure is in place the question of creating footballers of world standard does not arise and unless both happen, investments and extensive corporate support will not be possible. The fact remains there has to be commercial viability for investors;”

Kushal Das, General Secretary, AIFF, who named the Football Federation's priority as finding a world class technical director: "Unless we have a good technical director there is no point in having a great coach. AIFF will be closely examining the relevance of every domestic tournament. To take football to the grassroots level and talent hunt, AIFF will work closely with its partners at every level;”

Shekhar Ramamurthy, Deputy President, United Breweries Ltd, who cautioned: “We have to accept the fact that India will not play like Spain anytime in the near future. We need to grow step by step and the process should start now and the onus is not only on the AIFF but also on every club. While the UB Group is committed to development of football in India, the country needs more corporate participation;” and

Larsing Sawyan, General Secretary, Shillong Lajong Football Club, who emphasised the need for development at the local level: “Community development is the key to success of football development.”