jerome-valcke-praful-patelA FIFA delegation headed by FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke and FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development, Thierry Regenass, today concluded a four-day mission in India which saw football’s world governing body commit to increasing its support, beyond all projects already conducted through the “Win in India with India” programme, to strengthen the development of football in the world’s second most populous country, with a population of 1.2 billion people.

A memorandum of understanding setting out concrete objectives, mainly in terms of strategy, management, technical development and league and club management, was signed by Valcke and All India Football Association (AIFF) President Praful Patel at a press conference in New Delhi.

A lack of infrastructure, a national team currently ranked 169th in the world, a national league struggling to compete with other leagues, especially European ones, to attract fans and TV viewership: these are some of the challenges faced by Indian football today.

“We’re committing to a ten-year development plan with India which, if approved by the FIFA Executive Committee, would include India’s hosting of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. There is no football without a strong base, without grassroots football. There is also a lack of infrastructure here which hinders the growth of the game, and we will be active in this area too. With a population of 1.2 billion, cricket cannot be the only sport in India. There is definitely room for football which, by the way, is very popular at school level. After this visit, we are even more convinced of India’s football potential,” commented FIFA’s Secretary General.

fifa_logoValcke went on to explain why India had been chosen as a priority for the development of the game: “After the 2010 FIFA World Cup, we consulted the Asian Football Confederation and agreed between us to focus our development efforts on a single country where we believe the potential is huge, rather than on the entire continent, which is so vast. And that country is India. However, we firmly believe that the boost of the development of football in India will have a positive ‘domino effect’ on the neighbouring countries as well.” The FIFA Secretary General also met some of the chairmen, general secretaries and technical directors of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) in India’s capital city.

In addition, the FIFA delegation was given the opportunity to hold individual meetings with major Indian business leaders from the private sector, including Mukesh Ambani and Pawan Munjal, who showed a genuine interest in investing in the game with a clear development objective and long-term vision in mind, rather than focusing on short-term return on investment. A meeting with Atul Singh, President and CEO of Coca-Cola – long-time FIFA partner - India and South West Asia was also held.

Another important milestone was the meeting with India’s sports minister Ajay Maken, who gave a clear message of support for FIFA and AIFF’s plans, in particular with regard to the government guarantees needed to host any FIFA competition.

“We have been fortunate enough to have President Blatter and now Mr Valcke visiting India in the same year, which demonstrates FIFA’s interest in developing football in the country. Indian football is poised for a big leap after a long period of hibernation. FIFA is supporting us in our cause, going out of its way to help see India emerge as a strong footballing nation. We have to start early if we want to grow as a footballing nation and develop the game at grassroots level. We need to work on the pyramid, which remains the federation’s main objective. Unless players are being nurtured from the age of 12 or 13, we won’t grow. We have a ten-year master plan called Lakshya, and our aim is to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup,” said AIFF President Praful Patel.

The FIFA Development Office in the region, headed by FIFA Development Officer Shaji Prabhakaran, relocated from Colombo (Sri Lanka) to New Delhi earlier this year and was officially opened by FIFA’s Secretary General.

The FIFA delegation completed its mission by taking part in the International Football Arena Roundtable New Delhi 2012, an event organised in conjunction with FIFA, which gathered together the main stakeholders of Indian football along with top representatives from international football

courtesy www.international-football-arena.com