FIFA U-17 World Cup: India’s Mission XI Million legacy project just a hogwash
With India hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup from October 6-28, Indian football authorities earlier this year launched a legacy program for the country’s first ever major FIFA tournament. Titled Mission XI Million (MXIM), the project was launched with much fanfare by the-then sports minister of India Vijay Goel, in the presence of All India Football Federation president Praful Patel, in New Delhi on February 10.
The aim of the program was to reach a total of 11 million boys and girls across the country for promotion of football by September 6, 2017. Very much like Indian football and its administrators, the project has anything but met its goal.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believed that the legacy project is ‘laying the foundation for a true revolution’ in Indian football. The world body chief will not be happy to read what really transpired.
The target figure of 11 million kids for the project could be reached as early as Friday, according to Joy Bhattacharjya, who is the project director of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the U-17 World Cup. AIFF general secretary Kushal Das said that by the first week of October, a few more million kids will have been added to the program.
However, Hindustan Times found these claims to be far from accurate.
As per figures provided by the LOC, “close to 1 lakh 50 thousand children have been reached in Delhi itself, not counting the NCR regions”. LOC officials also provided HT a list of schools in Delhi/NCR along with the number of students reached from each school.
These numbers, however, are highly misleading. For instance, as per the LOC’s claims 4,650 students have been reached from the four schools under the Kerala Educational Society in Delhi.
HT visited the institution’s branch located at Canning Road, which has 1,400 students. The school has no playground, and has sub-standard facilities for sports. The only teacher from the school, who had attended an MXIM workshop, was asked to fill in details about the school, including its total strength. He had been given a football at the event, the only equipment the school has received so far.
A few students from the school’s third and fourth standards had attended an MXIM football festival at the city’s Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, but neither did any official visit the school, nor was the school aware of 4,650 students being part of the program. The institution has close to 6,000 students from Classes 1-12 across the four branches in Delhi.
HT noticed that a similar pattern was followed when it came to the number of students being included in the project.
On August 20, over 20 physical education teachers attended a workshop at Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), Delhi Cantonment. Teachers who took part in the event were asked to fill forms where they were asked to mention the total strength of their schools. On average, each KV school has an average of 1000-1500 students in Delhi.
HT visited KV, Pragati Vihar, which has a total strength of around 1,200 students. As per LOC’s claims, 1,200 students have been reached from the school. Ground realities, however, turned out to be completely different.
A teacher from the school had attended the workshop, but school authorities weren’t aware of 1,200 of its students being covered under the MXIM program.
The school has a small cemented ground, and volleyball and basketball courts which are in a shoddy state. A teacher informed HT that because of the cemented ground and the lack of playing space, promoting football isn’t easy.
Speaking about the workshop on August 20, Bharati Kukkal, principal of KV, Delhi Cantonment, said, “The workshop was about (spreading) awareness, nothing much. The main emphasis was to spread a message that football is easy to introduce in (a) school, whether there is a standard field or not.”
‘Numbers being verified’
Responding to HT’s questions, LOC chief Bhattacharjya, a former journalist who was associated with IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders, claimed that the numbers relating to program were being verified with the help of boards to which the schools were affiliated to.
“We actually work with the KV Sangathan and Department of Education (to verify the numbers). It takes a bit of time to work with the numbers because once the numbers come in, we tally them back with the schools. If the school is affiliated to a state board, we check back with the state board,” he said.
He added that the 11 million students are being ‘reached through schools’, while 80,000-90,000 have been reached directly through football festivals and other events.
When asked if the LOC has kept a database of students, Bhattacharjya said, “We don’t always get a database of students, but what we do get is a database from each school, (which includes) the number of students in each class and the number of students who are part of the program in each class.”
This is in contrast to what Bhattacharjya had claimed in an interview to Asian Age in April: “We have this huge database of students and schools, we make sure that the data is compliant with what these people have, with what the AIFF has. We make sure that all this data goes to them.”
Bhattacharjya further told HT that two footballs have been distributed to every school, with teachers being given manuals, which include 3 vs 3, 4 vs 4, football drills, in order to help kids play the sport in the absence of proper grounds.
When asked about the total budget of the project, Bhattacharjya said, “Rs. 30 crore is the budget. Thirty crore is a ridiculous figure for reaching 11 million children,” before adding, “In effect, it’s less than the amount that was sanctioned. Finally, it’s about Rs. 12.55 crore (that the government is spending). We are spending about Rs. 25 crore on the project. (The contribution of the government and the AIFF on the project) is exactly 50-50.”
He also admitted that monitoring the schools, given the scale of the project, wouldn’t be possible, indicating that the onus would be on schools to promote football.
HT noticed that the figures of students participating in MXIM, provided for eight schools by the LOC, are close to the total strengths of those schools. Will football be accessible to all these students who have been added to the 11 million list?
The fact that there is no long-term plan to support this short-term idea, and that it essentially expects schools to magically start promoting football with almost non-existent infrastructural support (barring two footballs) and minimal technical guidance, doesn’t give a very good endorsement of India’s legacy project.