x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Domestic chore for football to get noticed in India

Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke.
Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke.

You cannot accuse Jerome Valcke, Fifa's general secretary, of a lack of confidence, misplaced or not. On a visit to India this week, he had this to say: "We cannot imagine football not being the No 1 sport in India in the next 10 years, sorry for cricket."

That is right. He was talking about India, a country where even domestic cricket matches play out in front of packed crowds.

When the national football team - ranked No 169 - play, they are lucky if they make the back page.

Contrast that with the furore surrounding a story about Unmukt Chand, the Under 19 cricket captain, possibly not being allowed to sit his university exams.

Valcke's trip, following one made by Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, was to set up a development office. There was also a promise that the organisation would consider India's bid to host the Under 17 World Cup in 2017.

"Fifa believes if there is one country in Asia to focus on, it is India," Valcke said.

Fanciful notions about participating in the 2022 World Cup are just that.

Asian qualification, with Australia now part of the mix, is incredibly difficult. Among those to miss out on the 2010 World Cup were Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"Our main objective is to develop domestic football and bring it to international level so that people take interest in watching the Indian domestic league and not only the English Premier League," said Valcke.

Easier said than done. On any evening in India's big cities, you will find dozens of children in Rooney and Lampard shirts. The chances of seeing a local player's name are slim.