The first-ever India Football Forum 2010 was organised by SportzPower as part of their Knowledge Series at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on Thursday, May 27.
Five sessions were spread across the day to give an overview of the current scenario within Indian football and also show possible ways forward on how to develop Indian football. Sadly the forum date clashed with the final round of matches of the I-League therefore no club or player could participate or attend.
But still there were discussions, criticism was publicly made and possible steps forward discussed, only will these be implemented to take Indian football forward? That is the real question.
The opening address was held by AIFF General Secretary Alberto Colaco who explained to the gathered forum on how the AIFF is structured and run to manage football on the Indian sub-continent. This was followed by a presentation by Neel Shah, formerly with the Fan Development at Major League Soccer in North America. Neel showed how the MLS developed over the years with a focus on football specific stadia and an own fan base with a focus on certain communities who were known to have an interest in the sport.
This was followed by the first panel session under the title "Indian Professional Football... The Imperative is Change". I-League CEO Sunando Dhar gave the keynote speech before the panel started to discuss the situation within Indian professional football. The panel included Fraser Castellino, COO, Sports Marketing Business, UB Group; Marcus Luer, CEO, Total Sports Asia; Yogesh Joshee, Matchworld FIFA licenced Player Agent; and N.K. Bhatia, Secretary, Delhi Soccer Association.
And it was clear from the onset that changes are needed. The positive steps taken by Pune FC, Shillong Lajong FC and Viva Kerala were highlighted by Sunando Dhar, but Fraser Castellino and Marcus Luer stated that more changes were needed to take football forward. Marcus Luer made the controversial statement that Indian football needed a Lalit Modi like character to change Indian football for good. Some looked startled, some thought it was the right move to find such a man.
In the first session after the lunch break the AIFF and Panasonic highlighted how they came together to form a partnership. This was done by the AIFF Marketing Head Sukhvinder Singh along with Kunal Dua, Marketing Manager at Panasonic India. It showed that the AIFF were looking for a partner for Team India which they found in Panasonic, which benefited both the federation and the electronic consumer brand.
Then came the session "Grassroots Trail... Feeder Route for Future Stars" in which I myself was involved in. And I have to say the most important and also most entertaining session of the day, then we discussed the way forward for Indian football. I tried to explain that grassroot football isn't just youngsters playing football at Academies and football schools, but rather all kind of amateur football should be classified as grassroot.
Though ours was termed as a panel it was rather a session of separate presentations by the different speakers which included my friend Steve Bellis, Director, Kickworldwide; Anand Singh, Director Marketing, Coca-Cola India; Pratik Kumar, Programme Head of an NGO Magic Bus; Dr. Shaji Prabhakaran, Associate Vice President – Sport Business, TransStadia and former Head of AFC's Vision India Project; Vijay Barse, Founder, Slum Soccer - KVS; and myself in the end.
Steve made a speech which only he can do. A dry topic presented in such a hilarious way that people do listen to what he has to say, about his days at Stockport County and how he got involved to develop the Football Development Centre in Pune along with Viswajeet Kadam and FC Liverpool. There are a lot of things to learn from Steve and the approach he has taken. Though all speakers on this season had important things say and I'd like to talk about the man who with his simplicity, but his clear cut thought caught the imagination of the audience - Vijay Barse from Slum Soccer. It is a remarkable project in Nagpur which is spreading across India using football as a tool for the homeless and people at the lower end of society. After his speech Vijay got standing ovations for the work he has doing over the last decade. I was the last speaker of the group, so I spoke about the Bayern Munich Academy project in West Bengal which has sadly run into problems and then summed up the session.
I once more said grassroot football is a crucial element in our football development pyramid. If professional football is at the top of the pyramid, then grassroots football is at the bottom but as many children and adults as possible need to play football for the beautiful game to have a bigger reach in the coming years.
The last of the sessions was titled "What is Needed to Drive Football Ratings". It included Atul Pande, CEO, Ten Sports; Ravi Kiran, CEO for South East and South Asia - Starcom MediaVest Group; L.V. Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research; and Marcus Luer, CEO, Total Sports Asia. It looked at the importance of television coverage and its ratings for a sport to be able to grow in India.
In the end I want to congratulate SportzPower for organising such a first ever event! Such forums and conferences are needed to discuss Indian football. These knowledge forums are there for people from the industry and marketing world to learn about Indian football, then one thing was clearly evident to me, there is an sustained process needed to educate people about Indian football and football in India. The lack of knowledge plus wrong information and perceptions are hampering the development of the beautiful game as are weak management and lack of infrastructure...