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Can ISL Be The Answer To India’s Footballing Woes?

Is Indian Super League (ISL) Just A Gimmick?

When the All India Football Association announced the proposal to create a high profile city-based football league back in 2012, many, including myself, were both genuinely surprised that an organization so corrupt, so lethargic could plan such a massive competition, and had high hopes from it. AIFF had promised that this league would boast some of the greatest names of the footballing world from a bygone era, and that there would be specific guidelines for nurturing young footballers and infrastructure development, something that the country sorely needed( and still does) to make its presence felt in the footballing world. However, almost a season and a half into the Indian Super League, or ISL, as it is better known as, I couldn’t be more disillusioned about Indian Football.

As I sit down to write this, the once-mighty Indian team, whose players used to be scouted by the Top European Teams, are now languishing at number 167 in the latest FIFA world rankings. Our National Team has just come back from a humiliating, yet expected 3-0 loss away to Oman in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but this country and its citizens seem least bothered by all that. And why should they, the ‘God Of Football’ Pele has come to our land, and we would rather post pictures of him entering the stadium, speaking on the mic or signing autographs than worry about the plight of football in the nation.
ISL was supposed to be a platform to harness young and upcoming talents, but it seems to have done everything but that. The AIFF has signed a 1000 crore deal with IMG-R, and that has put Reliance in a pole position to fill its coffers. It’s funny how deluded a country can be: lights go off in our stadiums during a derby; school functions and award ceremonies are hosted in our stadiums; the clubs do not have the schedule of the I- League and local leagues in time, and even if they do, the games are shuffled according to the whims of the organizers; our National League games go on even when our National Team is playing because they haven’t been scheduled properly; clubs like JCT, Mahindra United are shutting down because their owners see no point in competing in a dead league that has zero appeal to the masses or to sponsors; but feed us a cup of ‘let’s football’ spiced up by some Bollywood swagger, some cheap business gimmicks and some superstars from the eras gone by, and we will come in hordes to lick the plates clean. Never mind what the National Team does, never mind the fact that the AIFF conveniently skips international friendly dates, never mind that we do not have any age-wise academy in the land, which would not only hone the younger lot of footballers but also allow them the time and exposure to develop to their full potential, something that was announced with much pomp and show when FIFA’s President came to visit India way back in 2007.

Rajinikanth ISL
Cinema Stars Like Rajinikanth getting more attention than our Indian National Footballers

Thanks to the Bolly blitz and tricks, football has been shifted from the bottom corner of the last page of the newspaper to Page 3, but the question of whether ISL can really bring about any change in the current footballing scenario in India remains a massive doubt. For no matter how many selfies Nita Ambani and Arjun Kapoor click with Pele or Roberto Carlos, if the AIFF does not push towards establishing a proper football calendar, if they do not establish more and more age-specific footballing academies, if they do not revive tournaments like the Durand Cup, Kalinga Cup, DCM Cup, if they fail to sign up sponsors for the I- League and rule the clubs with a strict hand, if they do not prioritize the National Team and set targets every year, no good will ever happen to the game. Of course, it’s hard to think that the AIFF would be bothered about it, for all they want is the people in power to harvest enough profits every year, even if it means they are killing the sport that gave them such power in the first place.