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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

Building a fan base for football is the biggest challenge: John Abraham

Prashant Singh, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, April 16, 2014
First Published: 09:42 IST(16/4/2014) | Last Updated: 09:59 IST(16/4/2014)

John Abraham’s interest these days clearly lies in promoting sports in India.

The Bollywood actor, who already co-owns a team (Delhi Waveriders) in the Hockey India League, has now also joined hands with an I-League football squad (Shillong Lajong FC) to buy the Guwahati football franchise for the Indian Super League (ISL).



In this interview, John Abraham talks about north-east India being the hub of football in the country, and how he plans to juggle his Bollywood career with his sports investments.

You already own a stake in a hockey team. What made you invest in a football team now?
Football has been part of my DNA ever since I was a child. I was a good player, and once even aspired to play for my country. So it’s (the move to buy a team)  definitely not 'now'. Also, I believe, as a country, we need to promote sports and fitness, and football gives me a chance to do both.

How do you plan to expand the game’s reach and popularity in Assam as well as in other parts of India?
North-east India is actually the strongest football-following region in the country. Sixty per cent of all national (football) players emerge from there. So there is a cultural and organic growth with ISL clearly visible. From spectators to followers, it’s all there. I am very excited about bringing good quality football emerging from this region to the fore. Through the media and other partners, and through ISL, I’ll take the north-east to the rest of India.

Considering football isn’t as popular in India, as compared to cricket for instance, what do you see as your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me is to rope in great players to make the game more interesting, and, secondly, I need to build a fan base for the sport. These will be the two key solutions we will work towards achieving.

READ: JOHN ABRAHAM TO PROMOTE SPORTS

You are a busy Bollywood actor, a film producer, the co-owner of a hockey team and a family man. Is juggling all this along with a football team going to be difficult?
Time is what you make of it. I make the time for sports and my film commitments. I enjoy the process (of doing both) because I am always looking for newer avenues to learn from.

Do you think your work in Bollywood will get affected due to the ISL?
No, it won’t. I will manage with the time I have between my shoots… I’ll schedule everything in advance.

What made you choose Guwahati?
I did it because of the cultural influence of the sport in the region. Even with successful international leagues, it’s the pedigree of the players that is worshipped and followed by fans. 

Since you are a trained marketing professional, how do you view the investment in a football team — as potential risk or a profitable venture?
Definitely, a profitable venture. Like films, sports are part of our culture. And the professional companies at the helm are going to enhance sports with their fervour and expertise. As a business, it only makes sense to invest in something that is upcoming, and see it grow.

Will it be challenging to bring in sponsors for football since cricket dominates in India?
Yes, but I hope that the sponsors, too, see it as a brand-building exercise as opposed to a short-term investment. Today, football is loved by the youth and is here to stay.

You are going to make films on sports such as football, biking and boxing. How would you explain your love for sports?
I would have been a sportsman if not an actor. I believe sports are extremely entertaining too. 

Are you going to rope in anyone else from the industry who is also a big fan of football, to promote your team?
I would love to have my fellow industry friends on board to promote the sport. The more the merrier. But at this point, all the resources are going into the team.

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