With the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup a little over six months away, India is gearing up to host what will be the biggest ever international football event on its soil. The tournament starts from October 6, with the final on October 28.
Philippe Le Floc’h, who was appointed as the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of FIFA in September last year, was in New Delhi on Thursday as part of an event held to announce Hero Motocorp as ‘National Supporter’ of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times later in the day, the Frenchman called on Indian companies to be part of the mega event.
“The benefits of being associated with the FIFA U-17 World Cup are twofold. Firstly, you have the prestige of being associated with a World Cup, the visibility from which will be huge. Secondly, you are also helping football develop in India by supporting youth development in the sport. We hope that the U-17 World Cup will be a game-changer for India. Anything that Indian companies can do to support that will be a positive for them,” Le Floc’h said.
Mission XI Million
The CCO also hoped that the U-17 World Cup would help in making football popular beyond a few regions in the country. “Football is a developing sport in India. It is popular in pockets, in Northeast, Goa, Bengal, etc. I think having the FIFA U-17 World Cup here will be good for the growth of the sport. You have the Mission XI Million initiative, which should help in developing the sport at the grassroot level and will hopefully put football in a different perspective for people here,” he added.
While there has been considerable interest among Indian companies for the upcoming event, FIFA doesn’t yet have any brand from the country as an affiliate for its global events. Le Floc’h is hopeful of that changing soon.
“The Indian market has matured. You have very, very competitive companies. They were initially focusing on India because your internal market is so big, but now they want to go out and explore. You can take Hero as an example; they are present in 35 countries around the world and have ambitions to go to more countries.
“Football is the most popular sport in the world, and FIFA is the world governing body of the sport. To join us as a global affiliate would be the perfect partnership for Indian companies looking to push their products to markets outside of India.
“When you are part of an event like the World Cup, you are already getting visibility from millions of fans. And it’s not just about one World Cup in every four years, you have major FIFA events happening every year,” he said.
FIFA ‘still recovering’ from 2015 scandal
Le Floc’h was brought into FIFA last year as part of a revamp of the world football governing body, which was tainted by a major corruption scandal in 2015. He believes the organisation is still recovering from the events of 2015, which culminated in the ejection of Sepp Blatter as president, with Gianni Infantino being elected to the role in February 2016.
“It is a challenge. What happened to FIFA is quite terrible. I am coming after (the scandal), so I haven’t gone through it, but it’s been a trauma for many people,” he said.
“It’s been more than a year (since the scandal); we are still recovering. It takes years to build a brand, but it just takes minutes for it to be destroyed,” he lamented.
He, however, gave his backing to Infantino, with whom he had previously worked at European football governing body UEFA.
“Yes, it’s true that FIFA’s reputation has taken a hit, but it’s now under a new leadership. He is extremely dedicated, he has got ideas and he wants to bring in change, so he is definitely the right man for the job,” Le Floc’h stated.