"The quality of football has been far, far superior to anything seen before"
The Indian Government are taking steps to ensure that football becomes the ‘sport of choice’ in India. With the launch of football programme Mission XI Million, they aim to reach 11 million children.
The top Indian sport has previously been cricket, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hoping to change that.
With the upcoming FIFA U-17 World Cup approaching, the Indian government has deemed football as India’s future sport of choice. Over the last few years, football has been gaining popularity.
The Indian Supreme League (ISL) attracts an average attendance of 22,000 per game. And the I-League has seen a growth in young players. The number of teams has grown from 16 in 2011 to now 37. Football is attracting fans from regions not known for football, such as Chennai.
Vijay Goel, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, has said steps would be taken to ensure football becomes the sport of choice. The Mission XI Million programme has been declared as one of those steps.
It will aim to reach 37 cities and 12,000 schools. Goel hopes it will cover across all 29 states of India.
Fulfilling the vision of making football a sport of choice in India. https://t.co/cjKSFPNdM9 #TransformingIndia pic.twitter.com/Xf1VCywbJv
— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) February 14, 2017
The programme will carry out in three phases until September 2017. It will also include in-school activities and football festivals.
Making football India’s ‘sport of choice’
The government face a tough challenge trying to make football the sport of choice in India. Cricket has held that title for decades. It is very popular in big Indian cities and in 2015, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was watched by over 350 million Indians.
However, as figures for the ISL rise, football holds a good chance of claiming the ‘sport of choice’ title. ISL have ensured that the quality of football increases. Co-owner of Atletico de Kolkata, Utsav Parekh says:
“We try to give the best experience that football fans have seen in the country. And the quality of football has been far, far superior to anything seen before.”
Indians are not only watching their national football league. There has been an increase in watching the English Premier League too. And the partnership of the two football leagues, created in 2014, has helped expand the ISL’s organisation.
Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India said at the time: “From a game that hobbled about on the fringes of Indian sports, there’s promise that this partnership will lift and reinvigorate football.”
The future sport of choice also encourages many potential benefits for Indians. It involves a great way to get physical exercise, more so than cricket. Footballers need to have strong agility and endurance so they can play for 90 minutes.
Football also invokes a good sense of team spirit, as players need to think together and build up a good support system. The rules of the game are also much simpler than cricket, making it more appealing for everyone.
It also has the potential to break down barriers and stereotypes. The Mission XI Million project would enable boys and girls the chance to team up together.
#MissionXIMillion encourages the participation of kids across various age groups encompassing gender barriers.https://t.co/66vkdjlcIE pic.twitter.com/bWayH1QQjO
— Mission XI Million (@MXIMIndia) February 1, 2017
In particular, girls would have the perfect opportunity to develop their interest in sports and change the stereotype of girls hating football. Girls can and will enjoy the sport.
On the streets, it seems football is already taking off.
“People think football is not that popular in Gujarat or UP so there is no talent scouting, and yet boys are playing it in the street all the time.”
Football clubs have already launched their own programmes in the past. Mumbai City FC had a grass root programme where they held football festivals. FC Goa’s programme also taught 800 children (aged between 6-12 years old) on football.
The Mission XI Million has the potential to help drive football in that top ‘sport of choice’ spot. But it will need the whole support of India to make it a success.