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Indian football fails to score with corporates

The month that began with Lionel Messi in India will end with the Federation Cup, the two events so disparate that even putting them in the same sentence looks odd. Dhiman Sarkar reports. Coach speak

sports Updated: Sep 17, 2011 01:22 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

The month that began with Lionel Messi in India will end with the Federation Cup, the two events so disparate that even putting them in the same sentence looks odd.

When a senior India football administrator earnestly spoke of the Argentina-Venezuela match being the game-changer, he must have meant in the distant future. For, the present is somewhere between tense and imperfect.

Last December when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) inked a R 700 crore, 15-year deal with new marketing partners, AIFF general-secretary Kushal Das said it’s time football generated this kind of money.http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/170911/17_09_11-metro22.jpg

It hasn’t been a year so we must be patient even as we accept that sport is real time in fast forward. But in the meantime, the I-League happened without a title sponsor and national television coverage, the Super Cup wasn’t held and one season after Mahindra United disbanded, JCT killed its football club. And the AIFF’s talk of top corporates keen on investing in football stayed just that.

Soon after this, Indian Arrows, the AIFF’s development squad, moved to Kolkata because Das said even the best marketing brains couldn’t muster the approximately R 7 crore needed to keep the team in New Delhi. Even someone not clued into India’s economic situation would know that Bengal isn’t the most prosperous state yet.

Corporate India giving football the cold shoulder was evident even when Messi strutted his stuff. Here was the planet’s best footballer at the top of his game teaming with colleagues from Real Madrid and Manchester City but top international brands seeking to enlarge their footprint in India were absent from that Friday evening show at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan. A spokesman for the Kolkata-based organisers said it had tapped everyone but no one showed enough interest.

Does all this point to football missing a connect with India’s moneybags? Does it mean that while it’s all right to watch international football on television, when it comes to investing, too few from India’s burgeoning economy are willing? And this four-and-a-half years after Fifa boss Sepp Blatter exhorted India’s industry captain to invest in the world sport.

Since the National League started in 1995-96, some international brands traditionally associated with football have pulled the plug on deals with the AIFF.

Last season, an Indian major, which, according to internet reports, earned a revenue of $23 billion, did likewise.

So it’s no surprise that the 33rd Federation Cup is happening without a title sponsor. Football needs to have a greater presence in New Delhi and Mumbai, presence that goes beyond the AIFF and its marketing agents having offices there. In the east, North-east and Goa, football sells. From tournaments to teams to an AIFF academy, too many things are moving east in Indian football. If its case is being hard sold elsewhere, it isn’t showing yet.