Indian Football: IMG-Reliance does not have experience in developing football

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There has been a lot of good news around Indian football in the recent past. The latest is signing of Ashley Westwood as coach for JSW promoted team from Bangalore. There have been many disturbing news items as well. The prominent one is the tussle between the IMG Reliance (and hence AIFF) and the union of football clubs. I do understand IPFCA’s opposition of “IPL Style tournament” but would have hoped that they had discussed more on confederation style structure. This model deserves a serious look. However, their opposition of a super league is quite justified. Any solution which has “IPL Style” type solution is inherently flawed. I might be biased given what is happening in Indian cricket but fundamentally “Super Leagues” as a solution or even as a starting point is flawed.

This brings me to a more relevant question. IMG Reliance has been mentioned as one of the three stakeholders in achieving the goal of football development in India. What is their credential to be included in this core team? How will a private enterprise with sole objective of profit making (All private enterprises have a profit motive and I am not singling out IMG Reliance) contribute when the possibility of making money is bleak. I am talking of developing football in the country and not creating properties like IPL. What needs to be understood here is that football development and league development are not same. At best league development is a part of the overall objective and should be taken at an appropriate time and with consent of all the stakeholders.

So is IMG best suited to be a key stake holder to make changes (or force changes)? In my opinion it is not. IMG is the one of largest company in the business of sports, fashion and media. They specialize in marketing, media rights, talent management, events, sports entertainment, sports academy and league development. In short they specialize in commercializing sports to enable sports establishments, associations and individuals make money. Mind you there is nothing wrong in this. It’s just that they add value where a sport is already established. They have the strength to promote it more, create a world class property and in the process make much more money for everybody involved just like IPL. They do not have experience in developing sports at grass root level. They do have sports academies but again it’s linked to their overall business. The pact of starting an academy in India between IMG and Reliance never saw light of the day. The latest news is that IMG itself is for sale and if rumours are to be believed then Reliance is the front runners to buy it.

Are the clubs justified in opposing a “Super League” which is supposed to develop sports in India? Of course yes. First of all, I am not sure how will it promote football and help sustain long term interest in the game. It will create a big entertainment event with many international ex-footballers. The bonanza will happen for a short period where TV audiences will get another prime time entertainment. Then there is the issue of snubbing the existing football clubs. For argument sake let’s say that the “Super League” model works then theoretically it should work if you involve current teams with some kind of arrangement. For e.g. you take top 6 teams, hook them up with corporates, help them get top international players and play the so called “Super League”. It should have the same effect right? But that won’t happen probably because IMG Reliance will then not make money through auctioning franchise teams and auctioning players. In short they will not own the property and that does not make business sense. The other way of looking at it is that IMG has paid Rs. 33.25 Crores last year and will pay Rs. 34.5 Crores this year. They must have paid a similar amount in 2010-11 too. How do you recover this? How do you get a good ROI? A “Super League” is the only quick fix solution.

IPFCA’s opposition is justified irrespective of the above logic. Indian football was not always like this. It has seen glory and its history is deeply rooted with Indian history. Durand cup and IFA Shield cup are the world’s third and fourth oldest club cup competitions. Mohun Bagan had rattled the British teams in early 1900s. There was Mohammedan Sporting and their most famous player – Mohammed Salim. Mohammed Salim – The India Juggler played for Celtic and completely enamoured them. Celtics still remembers and acknowledge his contribution. Then there was the golden era of Indian football from 1951 to 1962 under Coach Syed Abdul Rahim. India during that period won Asian games twice, was placed 4th once and was the first Asian team to qualify for Olympics football. The greatest achievement for Indian football was in 1956 Olympics where they stood fourth. Indian football clubs have played a huge role in all these achievements.

Clubs like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Dempo and the likes have supported and more importantly invested in clubs and football in India. The idea of ignoring their contribution and denying them the opportunity to recover their investment is non-starter for the next revolution in Indian Football

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