FIFA U-17 World Cup done, failed government feeder project being wound up
Around Rs 2 crore were spent in shortlisting boys after over 13,000 initially turned up for selection to the Sports Authority of India scheme which was to build on the ‘momentum’ generated by the FIFA U-17 World CupUpdated: Nov 29, 2017 08:39 IST
The FIFA U-17 World Cup in India last month was a hit and the home team won the hearts of fans despite failing to win a game.
There is hope India would go full steam to build on that exposure, but the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has poured cold water over such expectations as its scheme that had thousands of boys queueing up for selection is being shut down as a failure.
The SAI launched the Junior National Talent Scouting Project (JNTSP) in November 2015 to provide a feeder line for the team being built for the World Cup.
While two other academies – one by the AIFF and the other by the Minerva Punjab FC -- provided players, the SAI scheme didn’t provide any player.
The ambitious project, floated with Olympian SS Hakeem as the chief project director to groom U-16 boys, has proved unproductive after spending over Rs 2 crore, a SAI official said.
The scheme had raised great hopes. Around 13,000 boys were spotted initially. The number was down to 900 in the next phase before 160 were finally chosen.
Four residential centres were set up – Delhi, Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram and Imphal -- with 40 trainees allotted to each.
Kolkata was the first to shut down soon after the FIFA U-17 World Cup while the strength in Delhi, Imphal and Thiruvananthapuram has dwindled.
Hakim blames red tape for the project not taking off. “After the U-17 World Cup, the government lost enthusiasm in the scheme. There was a plan to have inter-centre competition, but it’s still in the pipeline,” he said over phone from Hyderabad.
The uncertainty has led players to quit, he says. “The scheme is in an embryo stage, it shouldn’t be closed in one year.”
Hakim and a seasoned retired coach, Biru Mal Sharma, did the talent-spotting. The coaching camp began in June 2016 with focus on feeding the U-17 team.
Since there were no immediate results, the scheme drew flak within SAI. “Players from the project were not impressive in the national level competition. This despite the huge exercise to spot potential players and experts employed to oversee training,” a senior SAI official said on condition of anonymity.
The Delhi team failed to cross the quarterfinal in the 2016 Subroto Mukerjee Cup tournament. Kolkata went out in the preliminary round this year. Hakim said: “It takes time to learn the finer points of the game. Nothing happens overnight.”
SAI, it is learnt, had plans to disband the project even before the World Cup, but dropped the idea to avoid controversy before the tournament.
Instead, it asked the players to join SAI’s day-boarding scheme, spread across the country. “Many players aren’t keen to stay in the day-boarding scheme. Therefore, they are quitting,” said Hakim.
The Delhi boys training at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium were shifted to Sonepat in February as the venue was taken over to prepare for the World Cup. However, the centre still functions out of Sonepat.
The players, believes Hakim, have further lost the competitive edge. “In Delhi, there are clubs and departmental teams for practice matches, but the environment isn’t healthy for football in Sonepat.”
With the under-16 scheme proving unproductive, project director Biru Mal Sharma said there is now a proposal to shift focus to lower age groups. “We’ve sent a proposal to scout talent in under-12 and under-14 groups. But it’s in the pipeline,” he told Hindustan Times.
While the players are on a sticky pitch, SAI seems to have flashed the red card to Hakim. “I haven’t got my October salary. If the situation continues like this, I might have to quit,” he said.