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The Sports section… Football, Cricket, Kabaddi and what not… It’s India we are talking about!!

Under-17, but Above Expectations?

India's Under-17 team is ready to play. But what can we realistically expect from them and what happens in their future?

“It was deserving, India are a team who will compete and make their country proud, you can tell there is a lot of work from Luis and what he has achieved with their players,” Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Claudio Bravo (Manchester City) are some of the players in the Chile senior squad. And their Under-17 coach is impressed with our players, after a 1-1 draw against the Chile Under-17 squad. Did the sun just wink at us from behind the clouds? Some of the Under-17 players   Football in India, is going through a period of flux. While the ideal dream of having an amazing national team and a television-friendly national league is becoming a reality, the ISL and the Indian team's ranking are not exactly perfect. Plus, if out of more than 211 nations, we are the only country to have two national leagues, with special permission from FIFA to boot, well...you decide what that means. Our point being, change is happening in Indian football, maybe for the bad, maybe for the good. Nicolai Adam had worked with the Azerbaijan team, guiding them from the Under-16 to the Under-19 level, a spell which was recognized as a very successful one. Of course, when he was appointed as coach of the-then Under-15 Indian team on April 1, 2015, there were high hopes. On February 7, 2017, he was sacked. By March, when Luis Norton de Matos was selected as the replacement, it was hard to be bullish about what the team would achieve in the to-be-held-in-a-matter-of-months World Cup. After all, they had even played in a number of tournaments beforehand, with the results being: Lost all matches in the BRICS Cup Last out of 16 teams in the Granatkin Tournament in Russia One draw, and two losses in the group stage of the Under-16 AFC Championship. Back to what we started with, there seems to be hope, even after all of it seemed like going to the ground. When are we playing? All matches are to be played in Delhi, which happened courtesy AIFF requesting for it. That aside, India's other group mates are: USA (October 6), Colombia (October 9) and Ghana (October 12). None of the above are pushovers. Fingers crossed, though. What happens after the tournament? The jury is out on whether a strong showing at the Under-17 stage is any indicator of the same squad's strength at the senior level. While is there enough evidence for not taking the results seriously, there are also gems unearthed at this level. What both sides can agree on though, is the invaluable experience & buzz created around the sport. Especially for India. In 2010, there was a sudden wish of sending an Indian team to the 2018 World Cup. With this in mind, the AIFF came up with an idea: the Indian Under-19 team would play against the top clubs of the country in the national league (the I-League), while being relegation-proof. The squad would consist of only Indian players, and that too, changed after every year. An year later, the team even secured sponsorship, and became the Palian Arrows. The players did play well; though they kept changing coaches, their performances were appreciated, especially in the 2012-13 season. It also helped that the overall performances of the Indian youth teams was also on an upswing. Of course, it is Indian football. In 2013, the team was disbanded, the money being the problem. Reportedly, the players were not being paid too. But the officials were just as funny, including the voracious consumer-of-his-own-words Praful Patel. For example: In 2011, “I’ve been impressed with the residential wing, the kitchen, the swimming pool and the gymnasium and the training grounds,” Mr. Patel added . In 2013, “Moreover, the infrastructure at Pailan in the outskirts of the city is in a bad shape. We have no option but to pull the team out,” asserted an AIFF official . In the span of 2 years, the infrastructure went from impressive to bad shape. Right. Back to the present, the same Arrows idea is being proposed, with participation in future tournaments, across age groups, being laid out. Will it stumble on the altar of money again? Let's see.


The Forgotten Women Relay Team

Can a nation forget an entire gold-winning relay team? Apparently, yes.

Mary D'Souza (Image from Sportskeeda.com) Amidst all the celebrations on the eve of India turning 70, all of us were given a refresher on our bright and accomplished history in pretty much everything. Sports was also not spared, as grainy photos and reams of text told us about all our accomplishments. Then, I discovered the story of Stephanie D'Souza and her relay team. Milkha Singh won the gold in 100 metres and 200 metres in the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games; Farhan Akhtar and you know what happened next. What you don't know is that at the same place, another member of team India, Stephanie D'Souza, won silver in the women's 200m. Wikipedia says she held the national records in 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. Now, let me tell you something else. Stephanie D'Souza was ALSO part of the Indian hockey team in one of the first hockey tournaments for women-the 1953 International Federation of Women's Hockey Association Tournament in Folkestone, England-and also captained the side in 1961. An Olympian (she participated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics) who played for India in two sports, and the whole wide net does not have a single picture of her. Now, let's flashback to the Asian Games before this one; the 1954 Manila Asian Games saw India's 100m relay team take gold. The women's team, that is. The team members were Stephanie D'Souza, Mary D'Souza, Violet Peters and Christine Brown.  Among the four, the latter two don't even have Wikipedia profiles; Mary D'Souza, incidentally, is also the first women Olympian from our country (1952 Helsinki), and was ALSO a part of the track team and the hockey team. Of her achievements: Mary’s most remarkable victory came at the inaugural Asian Games held in New Delhi where she became the first double medal winning athlete from India. She bagged a silver in 4x100m relay and bronze in 200m Mary went on to hold the national record for 100m, 200m and 800m hurdles until 1957. (includes her interview as well, and the above image) After years of being ignored by the officials and the ministers, in 2013, she was awarded the Dhyan Chand Award, an award presented to a sportsperson for her/his lifetime achievements. The Goa state government, meanwhile, is yet to recognize or reward her. Violet Peters To put the above into perspective, Lavy Pinto-the first Indian to win an 100 metres gold in the first Asiad in 1951-his winning moment, as well as his face itself can be found by just searching for his name. Lavy Pinto (Image From Livemint) We cannot change the records of the past. Yes, winners in women's sports used to find less of the limelight than their male counterparts. But we can at least take the effort of finding more about these forgotten people. We Indians deserve to know them. Every girl who dreams of running, deserves to know them. Let's remember them again.  


Steven Smith’s Slice Of Misfortune

Wow Wow Wow !! What a thrilling end it was to the tenth edition of the Indian Premier League. An absolute cracker jack of a game with both sides fighting their hearts out to be the winner. The Mumbai Indians locked horns with the Rising Pune Supergiants on a sluggish Hyderabad pitch. RPS had history by their side as they had already defeated Mumbai thrice in the tournament but Mumbai had a phenomenal record in the finals Mumbai Indians Skipper Rohit Sharma and Rising Pune Supergiant Skipper Steve Smith pose with the IPL 10 trophy on the eve of the IPL 10 final match in Hyderabad on Saturday. Mumbai Indians won the toss and elected to bat first on a wicket which was slightly on the slower side and could very well assist the bowlers. The duo of Parthiv and Lendl Simmons had given them quick starts before and were expected to do the same in the final as well. However, the pressure of the final does get over everyone. They preferred to be a bit cautious and managed to score only 7 runs in the first two overs. And then came, Steve Smith’s trump card “Jayadev Unadkat”. He trapped in the openers with his slower deliveries including a scintillating catch of his own bowling and the Supergiant’s were off to a dream start with 2 down for just 7 runs on the board. Now, the onus was on Rohit and Ambati to steady Mumbai’s ship. But they soon fell prey to the leg spin of Adam Zampa and that too in the same over. Unadkat grabs a magnificent catch You got to give credit to Steve’s field placements for both the wickets. This was a double blow for Mumbai and after that, there were a string of wickets for RPS. And in no time, the score board read 79-7. They were in deep trouble now and Krunal Pandya was the solitary recognized batsman out there at the crease, striving hard to get his team to a respectable total. “Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man” his innings of 47 runs at a stage, where every batsman had almost gave in, would go down in the IPL records books in Golden Words.  Mumbai managed to get merely 129 on the board, which was below par, but still Mumbai at least had something to play for. Krunal Pandya has been one of the standout players for Mumbai Indians The Supergiants were in great position to win their first IPL title (probably their last). This is what the equation was after 12 overs. 58 needed of 48 balls with two specialists of T-20 cricket on the pitch, Smith and Dhoni. But guys, you never know what’s going to happen next in cricket. Here beings the action. Steve Smith continued to play the slow game and out of nowhere, there was a bleak, hope for Mumbai Indians to come back into the match when Bumrah had Dhoni caught behind. 23 runs were required of the last 2 overs, and one could see the tensed faces in the Pune dug out for the first time in this match. It was time for Smith to accelerate because the match was slipping out of the hands of Pune. The Pune captain responded to the call with a magnificent six over long off. MS Dhoni couldn't trouble the run scorers much The match was surely on here. 11 needed off the final over with one of the fastest bowlers in the world, Mitchell Johnson, standing like a wall in front of Manoj Tiwary and Smith. And to everone’s surprise, Tiwary hit a four off the first ball!!!.  However, Johnson held his nerve and Tiwary chipped the next ball straight down the throat of long on. Mitchell Johnson turned out to be mumbai's saviour in the last over Here is the moment of the match. Steve Smith sliced a fullish delivery, and guess what, Ambati Rayudu took an excellent catch under pressure. There was stunned silence in the Pune campaign and Smith had to take a long walk back to the pavilion. There was nothing wrong with shot, but when you have an off day, nothing goes in your favour. Everyone was on the edge of their seats with 4 required off just 1 ball. Dan Christian was on strike. He flicked the delivery in the gap between long on and square leg, the fielder misfielded, threw the ball to Parthiv ad he dislodged  the bails before the batsman completed the third run. And yes, Mumbai won the final by just 1 run!!!!!! Mumbai Indians have won the IPL title thrice in 10 years Oh my god! What a nail biting final this was. The fire crackers erupted and so did the crowd. The Mumbai Indians pulled out this match from the jaws of defeat. But do you really think that Pune lost this match, or they simply let this match slip away from their hands? Is Steve Smith’s innings of 51 runs in 50 deliveries justified in a T-20 match? Has Dhoni lost his crunch of finishing games? Well there are many questions which remain unanswered .Comment in the comments section and let the world know what do you reckon about these questions. But one thing is for sure, that this match will go down in the history of IPL as one of the best matches ever played.


Oh, you poor I-League!

How long will Indian football let AIFF destroy it? Maybe after the I-League dies.

How screwed is the I-League? This screwed. Things can never get too good for Indian football. Look at what has happened, and what is to happen: India somehow managed to find itself among the top 100 in the world in rankings, a club with a tiny budget managed to lift the I-League, while India has somehow managed to its preparations right for the upcoming Under-17 World Cup (with some gaffes included, but that's part of the deal). It was looking good, for about a second. Now, the AIFF is again looking at destroying Indian football.   India wins! We have talked about why the I-League, as it is at the moment, is just not good enough for India. We have also talked about how making the ISL the be-all and end-all of Indian football will also be a disaster. Just some months back, it was easy to paint it as a face-off between the old clubs who had not done anything much and the new ISL clubs who have made football mainstream in India. But now that the battle is ISL vs Aizawl FC & Co., the pitch has queered. As profile piece after profile piece has emphasized, Aizawl FC won the I-League because of their players, their coach, their owner and mostly because of the very, very passionate fans they had. There was nothing that the AIFF did to help them; much has been said about how AIFF brought them back from relegation, but the reason they were relegated was because the team which finished below them, DSK Shivajians, had an financial agreement with the AIFF which made it clear that they would never be relegated for 3 years. Here's a timeline of what has been happening: On 30 April, Aizawl FC won the I-League. On 3 May, following reports of the merging of the leagues, which would have put Aizawl FC in the second division with no means of promotion, the club wrote to the AIFF and threatened: worldwide protests, sitting demonstration near AFC/Fifa offices, picketing of AIFF office, mass hunger strike/fast unto death protest On  5 May, when asked about the threats Praful Patel duly responded with aggression, and added to the verbal effluents he emits: "Aizawl was relegated in 2016. It was the AIFF which saw their passion and let them play the I-League as a special dispensation. They did well, they won. I congratulate the team and everyone who is related to Aizawl's successful march. And it is the AIFF which has supported them. If the AIFF did not support them then they would not be playing in the I-League." In the 2015-15 season, only one 2nd Division club was promoted to the I-League: Aizawl FC. In the 2016-17 season, Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab and Aizawl FC were brought from the 2nd Division to the I-League (after the withdrawal of the three Goan clubs), while Chennai City (which was not even in the 2nd Division) was promoted too. This induction of 4 teams brought the total number of clubs in the I-League 2016-17 to 10. Special dispensation, my ass. He also dropped this crap: "In the future, every club has to support its funding. We do not come into the picture. AIFF has no role in club structure, the financing of the club, the running of the club is purely their own domain," Patel added. Every big club in the world gets its main earnings from broadcast revenues. Here, Star, the co-owner of the ISL, holds the broadcast rights. Where the fuck is the money to be earned from? On 6 May, Following presentations and meetings, no official statement was released. This was picked up though: "I-League will remain the official league, while the Indian Super League will be expanded into a seven-month long tournament to be played in the weekends. There will be no unified league. We will take a call after two-three years," said an AIFF source. If the ISL and the I-League ran simultaneously, which match will be watched on TV? Also, this year Star was telecasting the ISL, while Ten Sports was broadcasting the I-League. What did you see?   The journey of Aizawl FC On 12 May, Following reports about the talks held between the AFC and the AIFF at the FIFA Congress (starting on May 9th) Mohun Bagan wrote to the AFC, asking them to maintain the status quo regarding the places given to Indian clubs in the AFC tournaments .  Sadly, a report appearing the next day confirmed their fears. After the AIFF and IMG-Reliance met with the AFC (what gives a private undertaking the right to sit with the national football body, and in front of a continental body? Oh, yes. Money), the AFC reportedly agreed to grant recognition to the ISL. It also said yes to the proposal of allowing the ISL winner to play in the AFC Cup . And capping off the list of ominous announcements, as the process of submitting bids for setting up three new ISL clubs began, Bengaluru FC expressed interest in it. This effectively meant that it would leave the I-League and join the ISL . On 17 May, Reports emerged that both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, two of the three original I-League clubs invited to play in the proposed merged league, had picked up papers related to bidding for ISL clubs. In other words, setting up their clubs in the ISL . Compounding the fears, this report states that there's no TV deal for next season's I-League; even this season, when we had nail-biting finishes to matches and a title win decided by literally the final whistle, there was zero promotion on the ground. UPDATE: on May 19, the TOI published an interview with Mr. Praful Patel. Some excerpts: During his trip to India, former Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said a country cannot have two leagues; it just doesn't work. How will it work in India? We agree to that. It's a temporary solution only for the next two to three years. We are therefore proposing that I-League remains the premier tournament and give it our fullest support. I-League is the only league we have at the moment. In a two-league structure, wouldn't I-League get step-motherly treatment? In a dual structure, I-League will remain the premier league with champions getting a AFC Champions League play-off slot. The league will be covered by Star Sports and have weekend games. There will be better coverage on television and marketing will be at a very high level. If you read above, it has been said that the ISL will also be held on the weekends. So, Star (if indeed a broadcast deal with it is a reality) will screen ISL matches and I-League matches together (assuming that the matches will be held at the same time). Let's see how that happens. Additionally, it is nice to see the AIFF chief admitting that only the I-League is their property; not that it has stopped him from selling out the AIFF, but good that he is saying the truth. Lastly, the timeline for the merger is still confused; 'two-three years' sounds suspiciously like 'we will kill the I-League when it is down and out.' Should the ISL be hated? You may ask, why this rabid opposition? Why do we oppose the ISL, which has brought Indian football in touch with the people? The answer is simple. The clubs cannot earn directly from the ISL. The AIFF cannot earn directly from the ISL. A third party, IMG-Reliance, earns from the ISL owns the ISL, and neither the AIFF and the clubs can do anything about it. God save Indian football.


The Curious Case of Delhi Daredevils

The tale of Indian Premier League started way back in 2008 and people then wondered if cricket could ever be played in a style we see these days.  And now the IPL is finally 10 years old. In These 10 years, teams have come and gone, controversies came up and faded away, but the fame and the aura of IPL hasn’t diminished an inch. This is what IPL is about, and this is what Indian Cricket is all about. Delhi Daredevils team in 2008 There are quite a few teams who have played right through these 10 years and one of them is the Delhi Daredevils. In the first couple of seasons, Delhi used to be a team which every other team feared to play with. It used to have players like Sehwag, Gambhir, AB Devilliers, Glenn Mcgrath and many more who could win you matches single handedly. But after those 3 seasons, DD has been fluctuating on the last 2 spots of the points table. Delhi has still not been able to find the recipe to success in these 10 years. If Delhi would have been a new team, their failures would have still been justified, because it takes time for a new team to get things right. But DD has been struggling since the past 5 years and 5 years is a lot of time. Have a look at the various positions of Delhi in these years - YEAR POSITION 2008 Semifinalists 2009 Semifinalists 2010 FIFTH/EIGHT TEAMS 2011 TENTH/TEN TEAMS 2012 Playoffs 2013 NINTH/NINE TEAMS 2014 EIGHTH/EIGHT TEAMS 2015 SEVENTH/EIGHT TEAMS 2016 SIXTH/EIGHT TEAMS So what are the major woes with which the Delhi team is struggling? Here are some of them - The Playing XI We are almost halfway through the IPL and DD has just not been able to find their perfect Playing XI. A possible reason for this can be that they don’t let their playing XI settle in. They lose one match, and in the next match you can witness a different set of players. When your team has lost rhythm, you need to give your players some time to get that rhythm back. What this will do is that it will help the players to develop the mutual understanding and communication, which is very much required on the field. Delhi batsmen have faltered to fast bowling once again Inexperienced Batting Line Up  This is the paramount reason behind the downfall of Delhi. If we have a look at their batting line up, you will come across names like – Sam Billings Sanju Samson Karun Nair Shreyas Iyer Rishabh Pant Corey Anderson / Angelo Mathews There isn’t a single Indian player in that line up who has played more than 10 test matches for India. Moreover,  Anderson and Mathews are surely not in the best form of their lives. This lack of experience is taking Delhi’s ship deeper and deeper into the sea of failures. I am not at all saying that their batsmen are inefficacious,  rather batsmen like Pant, Iyer and Nair might well fill up the boots of Sachin Rahul and Laxman. However, the fact is that they need an experienced batsman to guide the younger batsmen through tough times. Delhi players celebrating after getting a wicket Alright guys, it’s been a lot of castigation now. Contrary to their batting, Delhi’s bowling has been exactly on the other side of the coin. I must say that they have a magnificent bowling line up, and I will not hesitate to say that they indeed have the best bowling line up among the 7 teams. Another talking point for the Delhi Daredevils this season has been Zaheer’s leadership. Zak has been absolutely spot on with his field placement and his experience has been a blessing for younger bowlers like Shami, Cummins, Rabada. Marlon Samuels big hitting abilities can be handy for the daredevils But Delhi fans, you have got something to cheer for. DD have roped in Marlon Samuels as a replacement for JP Duminy and I am dying to see him back on the field hitting those big long handle shots. So guys, Half of the journey is over, and the Daredevils have a big job on their shoulders in the rest half of the tournament. I hope that they rectify their mistakes, and get back in the tournament loud and roaring. Cheers xD


Indian Football: From Under-17 To Adults

About the rise in the rankings, and the under-17 Indian team.

What now? (By World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons) Indian football has emerged into a new day, with a world ranking of 101. On July 2015, India was placed 156th. Now, in the span of less than 2 years, we have jumped 55 places. Has Indian football then turned a new page? Not so fast. In 2015, Wales broke into the top-10 of the rankings — this represented a dizzying ascent for a nation that was ranked a lowly 117th in 2011 (not too far from India’s ranking). Their ascent in the four-year period was nothing short of stunning, but it was aided by some sleight of hand as well. For a seventeen-month period after their 2-0 loss against the Netherlands, they didn't play a single non-competitive fixture which could have cost them valuable ranking points. The above article, and others, have hinted that the AIFF has tried to pull off a similar trick. Success however, has to be maintained. No amount of manipulating the system can hide a bad team. The players themselves have to be good, as do the upcoming ones. Which neatly brings us to the Under-17 World Cup. One of the first questions that people ask is how many people from the Under-17 setup do manage to make it on the big stage, both for country and club? What seems to emerge is the rise of a few; the 2009 Under-17 cup winning squad from Switzerland starred Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) and Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), while the Nigeria team which won the 2013 edition had Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) and Isaac Success (Watford). The tournament itself is held every 2 years, with 24 teams. Of the last 5 editions, Nigeria has bagged 3. Admittedly, that has not translated completely on the world stage; heck, they have not even qualified for the last 2 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations. WHO? As of now, many of the teams participating have not yet qualified; this is because the individual qualifying tournaments from Africa, Europe and the region of North, Central America & the Caribbean will be wrapped up in May. WHERE? The matches will be held in Goa, New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Kochi, Kolkata & Guwahati. WHEN? The tournament begins October 6, and will wrap up on the 28th. India however, is playing on this stage for the first time (courtesy of being the host nation), missing out on a tournament which had its inception in 1985. For the first FIFA tournament to held in the country, the build-up has had its share of controversies; the coach who had been with the team since 2015 had to resign, the state of the Indian stadiums was a major headache for FIFA, while the question of whether the capital will host India's matches or not has a different answer from both the AIFF as well as FIFA's official schedule. Also, we have recruited a new player in the ranks a couple of days ago, a US-based NRI, who will join the team from May. And (for me, one of the biggest gaffes) , the official mascot for the tournament is a clouded leopard 'Kheleo'. A very well-intentioned action indeed (considering it is neither popular nor numerous). This is the official poster: Now you see him... This is what our football body came up with. And now you don't! (Image By: FIFA) Leopards have SPOTS! Tigers have STRIPES! Didn't the AIFF people get complementary JIO connections?! (exhales) All said and done, the most we are expecting of our team is to give a proper fight to all the opponents they meet. PS: If Nigeria's Under-17 squad is called the Eaglets, will the Indian counterpart be called...the Blue Cubs? More: The Official FIFA Under-17 World Cup website


Football & India: Part 1

The state of football in India. Because if you can wake up for that CL Final, you can definitely read this.

By Glen Carrie via unsplash.com I love football. I play football. I'm an Indian. Of course, my favorite clubs are Real Madrid and Chelsea. Change the names of the clubs to any of the top 10 clubs in Germany, England Italy or Spain, and you will have the average football fan in India. We know more about their clubs, their players, then we know about our own clubs and players. Of course Fifa and PES have a role to play in this. But when a football playing kid can tell you about the Manchester United vs City rivalry better than he can talk about Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal (chill. The kid here is me), we have a problem. Let me tell you about what is happening in our country. So, we have an Indian football league? Yes. It all started with the NFL. What's the NFL? Founded in 1996, the National Football League (NFL) showed early promise in its endeavor to make football a professional sport, but lost momentum after a couple of seasons. Eleven years later, in 2007, it finally gave way to the I-League, which today is on its last legs—dwarfed by the conflict-strewn Indian Super League (ISL), which was born in 2014. All of these were created to revamp and revive an unproductive domestic ecosystem. Ok. Who runs it? England has its FA (Football Association). India has its AIFF (All India Football Federation). We also have cup competitions (the Federation Cup is the most prominent one). Just saying. The I-League is our official league. 10 teams played in its inaugaral edition in 2008, and 10 teams are playing in the current edition. The winner gets to play in the AFC Cup (Asian Football Confederation), which is Asia's Europa League. Our Champions League is the AFC Champions League. No Indian team has ever played in it, though some of our clubs have played in the qualifiers for it. Bengaluru FC, however, were the first Indian club to reach the final of the AFC Cup. This year, they are in the qualifiers for the AFC Champions League. Hope for the best. The sending of team to the AFC Cup or the other is apparently determined by the ranking of the nation. Alright...what is the ISL then? IMG-Reliance, along with STAR, came together to hold a franchise filled league, the ISL. It was promised that this was just the sideshow; the IPL to the I-League's Ranji. The problem is, the AIFF has decided to make this THE league. In other words, it has replaced the I-League. Whoa, whoa. Where did Reliance come from? IMG-Reliance virtually owns Indian football, as of now. And it will continue to do so, at least till 2025. It's a sad story. So we have 2 leagues. Isn't that...messed up? Everyone thought the same thing. From the players to the spectators to the administrators, everyone. Many terms were thrown about by the people who mattered; 'short-term', 'future', 'merger'. The AIFF President himself has been so inconsistent, that you just need to look at his statements to realise that, of course, he comes from politics. He is a politician? What is it with politicians and sports? My friend, politics in the AIFF has a rich history & a promising future. More than BCCI, it is the AIFF which needed a Lodha Committee. I'm already losing hope. Cheer up. There's worse.


Football & India: Part 2

The concluding part of how Indian football is in a mess.

By Markus Spiske via unsplash.com Worse? The AIFF has setup a new format in place. It will see the ISL become the official Indian league; that you know. Below it, will be the present I-League. Below it, will be the present I-League 2nd Division. Now, this is the best part. There will be no relegation in the ISL league. NO RELEGATION. Apparently, the franchise owners have paid, and relegating them is not something the AIFF can do. There WILL be relegation for the I-League, and promotion for the 2nd Division. Both will have 10 teams each. The Federation Cup will become the Super Cup. Of course, it will favor the ISL league, with all of its teams playing, and only four top teams from the I League, and playoffs for the others. That's wrong...right? Among other things. We have tried to explain here why making the ISL anything bigger is a bad idea. That's just the practical part. Why the hell are the ISL teams not being relegated? No league, apart from Australia's A-League follows a system like that. (And as this excellent Zee News report will tell you, it is in a proper mess) Aren't our I-League clubs angry? You bet they are. In recent weeks, Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Club de Goa, three prominent Goan clubs that formed the spine of Indian football, pulled out of the 2016-17 I-League season in protest against the proposed restructuring of the domestic leagues. The letter from Dempo to AIFF, says, among other things: Considering the high cost of fielding and maintaining a team in the I-League and the uncertainty regarding the reorganization of the competition, the Promoters of the Dempo Group of Companies and the management of the club have decided that it will not be worthwhile to make the considerable additional investment required to field a team in the I-League. Therefore, with great regret, we wish to inform you that we will not field a team in the forthcoming I-League (2016-17). What is the AIFF doing? It isn't wooing them back, for one. New Delhi: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) will seek fresh tenders for clubs aspiring to be part of I-League 2016-17 as it evaluated bids from three interested parties following the withdrawal of Sporting Clube de Goa from the league. Kushal Das, general secretary, AIFF, said, "It's truly heartening to see these three clubs, that too from different states across the nation, showing their enthusiasm to play in the Hero I-League. This actually highlights that we're heading towards a bright future of Indian Football, involving every nook and corner of the country." Referring to the decision of Sporting Clube de Goa to officially pull out from the next I-League, Das called it "very unfortunate and sad". They have even shifted the blame. "If FC Goa (the ISL club) can manage a full house for every match, then why is it that not even 100 people turn up to watch these legacy clubs?" an AIFF official fumed. It’s a thought-provoking question. But the AIFF cannot claim innocense. That Dempo too decided to pull out, given that their owner is an AIFF vice-president, speaks volumes of the state of affairs. That's a point, no? Sort of. Here's the counterpoint. If the marketing and organizational responsibility was with AIFF, how can clubs be blamed?" asks Sporting Clube de Goa president Peter Vaz. To emphasize that point: I vividly experienced the absence of proper marketing of the I-League during my several stints as a commentator to various cities. In January 2015, when we went to Goa for commentary, it was noticeable that there were only banners and posters featuring the ISL even when it had got over in December 2014. Except for the print media there was no promotion of the I-League. The 36th Hero Federation Cup held in two venues in Goa in December 2014 and January 2015 received negligible promotion. Even uplinking facilities for telecast of matches were not completed. The first three matches in which I did commentary at the Tilak Maidaan Vasco and the Nehru Stadium, Margao were not shown live on Ten Sports as there were no uplinking facilities. Has an Indian club ever shut down? Just asking. The casualties amongst I-League clubs have been huge. So many famous clubs that had rendered yeoman service to football and had been successful, like JCT (NFL champion in 1997), Mahindra United (NFL champion in 2005), Pune FC (noted for its long term development programmes), Royal Wahingdoh and Rangdajied United (Shillong) and now the three Goa clubs, Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa, have withdrawn. All these clubs had a rich history and tradition and it would have been better if the AIFF had patiently heard their grievances and tried persuading them to persist. Um...can I know the situation in China? Sure. The Chinese Super League was created by the rebranding of the former top division Chinese Football Association Jia-A League in 2004. (see Chinese Jia-A League, not to be confused with Chinese Football Association Jia League, which is the current second tier league.) Originally contested by 12 teams in the inaugural year, the league has been expanding. There are 16 teams in the current season. Below the Chinese Super League, where Oscar & Hulk exist, we have the China League One. Among other teams in it, Beijing Renhe signed up West Ham forward Nikica Jelavic, last year; this year, Sven-Göran Eriksson, former manager of the England national team (2001-06) is managing Shenzhen FC. Below it, there is the China League Two. Below them, there is the China Amateur Football League. Forget the outlandish money; it will do a Makachakala and disappear, sooner or later. But in theory, a club can jump four divisions and compete in the first division of the country. Something which even happened here, when a club from the 3rd division of the Shillong Premier League made its way to the I-League, and finished 3rd. All this in a span of 8 years, and because the owners loved it. But even they had to leave the I-League, because of rising costs. So.. Yes. In short, we are screwed.


The AIFF

Some snippets about the AIFF. Don't worry, they are still bad.

By goal.com (goal.com) , via Wikimedia CommonsThe All India Football Federation (AIFF) has Praful Patel as its president. He is currently on his third term, and following precedent, is unlikely to leave the post any time soon; Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, former president, was at the helm for more than 20 years. His fourth term election in 2000 was the first time he faced competition for the post, and even then he managed to defeat the challenger, Samir Thapar, vice-chairman of JCT Mills, Phagwara, through his savvy. Then, in 2008, he suffered a cardiac arrest, which sent him into a coma he is still in. At the AIFF, Praful Patel took over then as acting president. Then he was elected president. He is still there.Have a look at their budget details. Priceless. The AIFF's budget for FY 2013-14 (reproduced below) makes for interesting reading. Their total income is projected to be Rs 54,53,35,000. And their expenditure is Rs 54,38,61,600. Meaning AIFF had a surplus of just Rs 14,73,400. Now, of course, things could have read differently if the 'meeting expenses' during 2013-14 were not Rs 65,00,000 (that's a lot of tea, coffee and biscuits). They love their football, with politics served on the side. For two seasons Churchill Brothers was not allowed to play in the I-League as it could not fulfill the club licensing criteria. Now either due to the court order or seemingly political compulsions (Churchill Alemao has joined NCP, the political party of Mr. Praful Patel, the AIFF president, ahead of the Goa State elections), it is back. This is all keeping aside the complete and utter confusion the AIFF authorities have about the leagues they run. Completely clueless. Better yet, there is the familiar conflict of interest situation here too; Larsing Ming Sawyan is the owner of I-League side, Shillong Lajong, and the co-owner of the ISL side, NorthEast United FC. He is also a vice-president in the AIFF. Mr. Shrinivas Dempo is the owner of the celebrated Goa side, Dempo. He is also one of the vice-presidents of the AIFF. Dempo still left the I-League this season. Admittedly, that does look a bit different from Srinivasan-owned CSK winning IPL after IPL. Not that the I-League sides have covered themselves in glory. The Mohun Bagan incident showed how weak our governing body is. Then it was Bagan they bowed down to. Today it's IMG-Reliance.    


The IMG-Reliance deal

Good or bad for Indian football? You decide.

By International Management Reliance (International Management Reliance) , via Wikimedia CommonsWhen you start reading up on Indian football, one of the things that keep popping up is IMG-Reliance, and their deal with the AIFF.What is it? Under a deal struck this week, IMG Reliance is to secure "all commercial rights" of football tournaments organized by the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the apex football body, for 15 years. AIFF, which organizes annual tournaments such as the I-League, the Durand Cup and the Federation Cup, expects to earn around Rs 700 crore from the deal, its general secretary Kushal Das said. The amount is to be paid over 15 years as the fee payable to AIFF increases every year for the first five years and then gets fixed according to a formula. Zee News's version adds an interesting tidbit: At a time when the coffers of Indian football's apex body was empty and needed a grant of 25 cr from BCCI to prepare the team for the 2011 Asian Cup (where India had qualified after a gap of 24 years), IMG Reliance stepped in and pledged 700 cr over 15 years for all commercial rights to football in India, including sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, film, video and data, intellectual property, franchising and the right to start a new league. It is reliably learnt that for the first five years of the deal when the new partners attempt to bring about a change, the AIFF will pocket a sum of around Rs.30 crores and in the following 10 years, payments will be made with the total amounting to Rs.750 crores or so. However the deal is so structured that it doesn’t leave much for the clubs and so the "sustainable" aspect is automatically taken out of the picture. IMG-Reliance have to pay ‘x’ amount of money to the AIFF, who then have to manage all their activities within that sum, each year and if at all any sponsorship comes in, it will be taken away by the commercial partners. So tomorrow if the I-League rights are sold to a major broadcast player at a regional, national, continental and global level, the profit would go to IMG-Reliance while the clubs are left empty-handed. And mind you, the maximum revenue the clubs across the world earn are from broadcast rights but there is no scope for the same in India, at least on paper. IMG Reliance pays around 33-35 crores each season to the AIFF out of which the governing body for football in India uses 16-17 crore to conduct the I-League. Coca-Cola also repays the AIFF in actual expenditure for the conduct of the U-16 Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussein Trophy. The rest of the 16 odd crores given by IMG is used by AIFF to conduct their other tournaments like the Federation Cup, the Santosh Trophy and is also used on the national team. Last season, IMG-Reliance sold the television rights of the I-League to News Time Bangla and News Time Assam for an estimated 17 crore rupees and to Ten Action for an undisclosed amount. But all this revenue went to IMG Reliance thanks to the deal with AIFF. So, in effect IMG got back their investment on the I-League through the broadcast revenue while the clubs were left with nothing out of the 17 crores. "You are telling me as a club that ‘I know you are spending ‘x’ amount of money every year, some crores are going into this. But that’s how it is; so continue and it’s not my problem that you have no way of recovering your investment. It’s not my problem that the I-League is not marketed well, it’s not my problem that the game is not growing. It’s not my problem.’ It’s not the AIFF’s problem. It is somebody’s problem and no one knows whose problem it is," he added with a touch of sarcasm. He here is Rajeev Piramal, co-owner of the former Pune FC. Now, remember the cash strapped coffers of the AIFF? The deal involved AIFF breaking up its broadcasting deal with Zee. This was done by paying Rs. 70 crore to Zee. This was publicly announced. "IMG-RIL has also given a buyout amount of Rs 70 crore to Zee Sports to exit from the agreement five years before expiry," the AIFF president said. Where the hell did AIFF get the money from? To add to the irony, there is a strategic plan budget of the AIFF available on the internet; according to it, the AIFF will earn a total annual income of anywhere between Rs. 51 to 62 crores, in the years from 2014-17. The sum paid was more than their income estimates. Has IMG-Reliance helped the game develop? An AIFF Elite Academy in Goa has been set up for developing players; there were others in the pieline which didn't happen, but fine. And the Reliance Foundation has, admittedly, helped in setting up matches where school children from Kolkata and Kochi can fight out the final amongst themselves, in a match in Mumbai; just think of the possibilities, if school kids can play out like this. But then there were promises. A national academy was to be built in Baroda; no news on that. And while they have taken up football initiatives at the grassroots, almost all are branded with the ISL logo. Fingers crossed.  


From I-League to ISL: A story in lies

How the AIFF lied to our faces. And lied, and lied, and lied.

By World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons In August 2013, In an interview with AIFF President Mr Praful Patel: How important is this event (ISL) to spruce up the game? We are just building this as a short-term solution. I-League is certainly the long-term solution. We need to strengthen it though and this is just a part of that process. In October 2013, Much-anticipated, the formal announcement of the league was made in an IMG statement on Monday after being widely reported across India earlier in the day. Eight city-specific teams will compete in the first season, which will begin on 18th January 2014 and conclude in March. A second competition has already been pencilled in for later in 2014. The IMG-Reliance Indian joint venture, created in March 2010, has been supplemented by Star India for the Super League project. Star India, the country’s biggest TV network, will hold the broadcast and sponsorship rights for a tournament which IMG said had the ultimate aim of offering Indian soccer 'greater global exposure and eventually help India qualify for the 2026 World Cup'. Reports earlier on Monday suggested Star India has agreed to pay RS2,000 crore, or some US$324.7 million, for a one-third stake in the Indian Super League, plus the commercial rights for ten years. IMG's statement did not, however, confirm those figures. In October 2014, The AIFF president Praful Patel: "Certain ISL clubs have already shown interest in playing the I-League…the signs are evident. Maybe in a couple of years, you will find ISL teams playing in the I-League," he said. He, however, did not specify which ISL owners had approached him. Along with him was FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke "With all due respect, the ISL is not a ‘league’. It’s a tournament that will help Indian football garner attention from the fans, sponsors etc. According to FIFA, India has only one league and that is the I-League, which is held under the aegis of the All India Football Federation (AIFF)," Valcke said in the Capital on Wednesday. In November 2014, The AIFF president Praful Patel: A lot of people, including high-ranking AIFF officials, have said that there is a possibility of the I-League and ISL merging sometime in the future. Is that really possible? One must understand that we do not have two leagues: One is a tournament (ISL) and the other is a league (I-League). There is no question of the two coming together as a league. In February 2015, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das says: "The I-League should be compared from what it was some three years back. At that time, we didn’t have a sponsor while today Hero is on board for support for three editions. Today, courtesy the ISL, we can today afford to have all matches under the floodlights. The rub-on effect has been splendid," he added. Clarification: ONGC sponsored the I-League from 2007-2011, 2007 being the year when the I-League began. IMG-Reliance was the marketing partner of AIFF, since 2010. Whose fault is it again? In July 2015, In a meeting between the AIFF and the I-League clubs: "Patel said that in a few years from now, whether three, four or five years, India will eventually have just one league. This means that there will be a merger between the I-League and the ISL (Indian Super League) although the technicalities aren’t clear for now. He also stated that when the talks begin to combine the two leagues, the interests of the I-League clubs will also be taken into account instead of just announcing a one-sided decision," informed one of the I-League club officials. In August 2015, I-League chief executive Sunando Dhar said: "Both leagues complement each other. The I-League season has been pushed to January to benefit the ISL. The ISL starts in October and ends in December. The I-League starts in January and ends in May, so it would be better to have one league with eight-nine months of competition. A single league with 15-16 teams could be established in three years' time," Dhar said. In September 2015, Our respected President said: "There's no question . It is the league of India. ISL is a tournament — like the Rovers Cup or a Durand Cup. It is a tournament -- not a permanent league as a league of the country recognised by FIFA. I-League has to remain as the principal league of the country," Patel stressed. In January 2016, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das says: "But if you see the overall picture, two years back there were 12 teams playing the I league and now by combining two leagues (the I-League & ISL), you have 17 teams playing, which helps us in thinking about merger much more." Clarification: The I-League 2015-16 was a nine-team affair; ISL has 8 teams. In May 2016, After the announcement of the three-tier league (ISL, I-League 1 , I-League 2 ), According to Reliance: "You cannot have 16 teams at the top simply because we do not have enough players," said Sundar Raman, the chief operating officer (Sports) of Reliance, the biggest stakeholders in the ISL. According to AIFF: "There are contractual obligations that have to be respected," said AIFF president Praful Patel , without elaborating, possibly referring to the franchise agreement that ISL teams have with the league owners which make it clear that neither of them will be relegated for the length of their 10-year contract. According to an I-League club: "If we fulfill the criteria, there is no place for us in the ISL. If we play in League 1, there is no avenue for us to get promoted to the top league. Why should we play at all," asked a club official who attended the meeting. In May 2017, The AIFF announced on May 17 last year that there would be a merger between the I-League and ISL. Why suddenly change gears and say the two leagues will be played simultaneously? We feel it will take some more time for the integration of the two leagues. There are various reasons; the structure of both leagues is different, particularly with the franchise fee. Instead of merging from this year, we will do over a period of two or three years in a structured manner where issues can be narrowed down.... During his trip to India, former Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke said a country cannot have two leagues; it just doesn't work. How will it work in India? We agree to that. It's a temporary solution only for the next two to three years. We are therefore proposing that I-League remains the premier tournament and give it our fullest support... In a two-league structure, wouldn't I-League get step-motherly treatment? In a dual structure, I-League will remain the premier league with champions getting a AFC Champions League play-off slot. The league will be covered by Star Sports and have weekend games. There will be better coverage on television and marketing will be at a very high level... These are the people who run our game. And they lie to our face.  


Why the ISL can never be the EPL, either

It just doesn't make sense.

By ArsenalFan700 (Own work) , via Wikimedia CommonsNow, you do know the Indian Super League (ISL). 8 franchise teams, the football copy of the IPL, Ranbir, Sachin & Sourav. You do. So, answer me this: who owns the IPL?Duh, the BCCI. Another quick question: who owns the ISL? The All India Football Federation (AIFF)? Galat jawab. The ISL is owned by IMG-Reliance and Star India; both of them formed a joint venture to run it. Star owns 35% in it. The rest is owned by IMG-Reliance. Not the clubs. Not the AIFF. Two third parties, one which has a marketing contract till 2025, and another being a sports broadcasting network, own India's football league. The clubs which have spent their money in developing India players up till now aren't even getting a place, forget having a say. Now, the AIFF has shown remarkable haste in making the ISL the premier league for India. A league which it doesn't even OWN, and probably never will. FIFA defines a member as 'an Association that has been admitted into membership of FIFA by the FIFA Congress'. It has a document listing norms for them. Among these, are: Members have the following obligations: i) to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties As plain as possible. Of course, AIFF and IMG-Reliance will circumvent it, somehow. But you, the normal person, now know. The difference between the ISL and the I-League, after the former's first season, is this: Rs 12.45 crore was spent in a day on Indian footballers at the Indian Super League (ISL) auction and draft on Friday, July 10. That’s a little more than what it costs to stage the 11-team I-League on a home-and-away basis for nearly five months. Back in 2014, the AIFF banned four clubs (Churchill Brothers, Rangdajied United, United SC and Mohamadden Sporting) for failing to comply with the AIFF licensing system. Firstpost sums up the licensing requirements best: The AIFF licensing system is heavily based on the AFC system and is divided into five major categories — sporting, infrastructure, personnel and administration, legal and financial. There are categories within these broad divisions which are graded A, B and C. - Those requirements which are graded A are must-have's for the club. If the club fails in any criteria which is graded A, the license will not be given. Example: Having at least two youth teams within the age range of 15 to 21, one youth team within the age range of 10 to 14 and one youth team below the age of 10 are all graded A. - If the club fails in any requirement graded B, then they will be penalised. Example: Each stand must provide sufficient toilet facilities for both sexes in accordance with the local authority regulations or the licensor’s requirements. These amenities must include washing facilities with at least cold water and a plentiful supply of towels and/or hand dryers. - Requirements graded C are those which are in best practice. Example: To implement a policy to ensure racial equality is upheld and educate its players, management and staff to ensure this goal is achieved. Making ISL the official Indian league will make it mandatory (see the club licensing requirements?) for them to have a youth development program, as well as youth teams. Everything, built from scratch, while our current I-League clubs already have that infrastructure in place. They, however, stand to be removed, while the paying franchises will be allowed to take their own time; a classic case of the two-faced duplicity of the AIFF. Of course, we can't generalize. For one, as the below report notes, 'when the ISL started in 2014, franchises were told to have an academy by season 5 or 2018.' Further, the franchises have also been at work: Two ISL franchises have also adopted age-group leagues and Atletico de Kolkata have a team playing in the third division of the Kolkata league. FC Pune City are participating in the under-16 and under-18 I-League this term and have taken over former I-League team Pune FC’s academy. Also, there have been a HELL LOT of activities for kids in different age groups, from different franchises in different cities, which are summed up here. All of which is said to culminate here: "The franchisees are identifying the best talent and from here we will handpick a further 200 for the final selection phase in Mumbai. Those selected will be rewarded with a scholarship programme," said Hubers. The former Netherlands footballer said 24 youngsters -- eight in each age group -- will be selected for the scholarship programme which would involve staying at the residential academy in Mumbai. The academy -- to be set up in Navi Mumbai -- will be functional in June. The trainees will spend four years at the ISL central academy before they graduate and each franchise has been encouraged to start regional academies of their own. What hurts is that even those clubs which were thrown out of the I-League still have their age group teams playing. Rangdajied United FC, for one, are playing in the Under-18, the Under-16 as well as the Meghalaya football league, Shillong Premier League. Mohamadden Sporting and United Sporting Club were also in action in the Under-16 category, in September last year. Which is the point: the way the league structure is being proposed, the I-League clubs, the one which have actually put in the work and still are working for Indian football, all of them will be second-class citizens compared to their ISL counterparts. Can the ISL last? The finances look steady. At least the names involved in the league, such as ATK co-owner Sanjiv Goenka (chairman of RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group which has an asset base of over INR 32,000 crore), NorthEast United FC co-owner Larsing Ming Sawyan (owner of Centre Point Group, which has hotels in the Northeast), and the other businessmen and stars involved should have the appetite to stomach these losses. How do the ISL clubs earn? For that matter, broadcast revenue is not shared among ISL clubs either. But there’s a central sponsorship pool—IMG-Reliance and Star use 20% of this money to organize the league. The remaining money is distributed among the clubs (the pool money for the 2015 season was Rs.100 crore). ISL clubs face an operating cost of around Rs.30 crore every season; and when the franchise forms were being distributed, interested parties were clearly told not to expect any returns for at least a decade. In the first season: Based on conversations with ISL franchise officials, officials at the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and those involved in running the league, it is estimated each of the eight franchises lost between Rs 35-40 crore in the first season. In the second season: This season is set to change all that. Clubs are set to receive their 80 percent share from the Rs 100 crore pool as money from Flipkart, Maruti Suzuki, Volini and DHL pours in. Hero Motocorp remains the biggest contributor with the title sponsorship. And while we don't have anything for the third season, held in 2016: Industry sources expect the number of sponsoring brands to touch close to 25 this year compared to 17 last season. Star and IMG-Reliance together market the ISL. Industry sources said that while the title sponsor spends anywhere between Rs. 18-20 crore, the associate sponsors put in about ₹6-8 crore. Others like shirt sponsorship stands at Rs. 3-5 crore while kit sponsorship stands at Rs. 6 crore. Many have compared ISL to the IPL. But with what is slated to happen, the more correct comparison for the ISL will now be the Ranji Trophy. The IPL is upfront about what it is: pure entertainment. The ISL has announced that it has bigger dreams than that, and plans to be the football league for the country. Can it make them reality? I don't know. But if it involves burning out almost the whole I-League, this most likely is just another false start.  


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