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Football in India set to kick-off
The professional I-League hopes to take football in India back to its glory days.
Last Modified: 22 Nov 2007 07:03 GMT

Fifa president Sepp Blatter helped celebrate the 70th anniversary of the All India Football Federation [EPA]

India's new professional football competition, the I-League, kicks off this weekend after 11 years of a semi-professional version.
 
The new league will improve the country's clubs and pave the way for the national team to return to former glories, according to a senior federation official.
"This was needed because wherever there is a strong league there is a strong national team," Alberto Colaco, All India Football Federation (AIFF) secretary, told Reuters.
 
"The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has given us the criteria we have to follow in three years.
"We're trying to get our clubs and the federation in tune with them.
 
"If we don't, the AFC will keep us away from the AFC Champions League which in future will be modelled on the Uefa tournament."
 
India's national team are currently 145th in the Fifa world rankings, which is a far cry from when they were inaugural Asian Games football champions in 1951, and then again in 1962.
 

"It may not be at cricket's level, but still there is scope to grow."

Alberto Colaco, secretary of the
All India Football Federation

The semi-professional league was initially well supported, but soon ran out of steam with critics blaming the federation and the clubs, many of whom were reluctant to switch to playing tournaments in more lucrative formats.
 
The Asian and world football bodies have now persuaded the Indian federation to overhaul their system, and utilise the playing talent and the sponsors available in a booming economy.
 
"Everywhere in the world 98.5 per cent is amateur and 1.5 is professional, but we hear only about professional football," Colaco said.
 
"Here 98.5 per cent is amateur football.
 
"We've to continue with that which is very important but we also have to separate professional football."
 
Bob Houghton, India national coach, has emphasised that the clubs need to keep players fresh and injury-free and the AIFF has a special section to oversee the league, introducing youth schemes and proper player contracts.
 
I-League to use J-League model
 
"We're looking at something like Japan," Colaco said.
 
"Everyone tries to follow the J-league because it is the most successful."
 
The other challenge for the I-League is the need to widen the fan base for domestic football in the cricket-mad nation, although millions of Indians follow football in other parts of the world.
 
Most clubs are based in the eastern Kolkata city and along the west coast, particularly in the tiny Goa state.
 
"We're trying to broaden the base, but you can't expect things to happen overnight," Colaco said.
 
"But a lot of people are showing interest in getting into the national league."
 
Indian football officials were buoyed this week by a meeting with Peter Kenyon, chief executive of English Premier League club Chelsea.
 
"Kenyon shares in our opinion that there is room for other sports in India," Colaco said.
 
"It may not be at cricket's level, but still there is scope to grow."
Source:
Agencies
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