SUNIL Mittal’s Bharti Group has a new ‘goal’. It is not a business of another kind. He wants India to qualify for the 2018 football World Cup. “Whatever it takes, our ambition is to see India qualify for the 2018 World Cup,” Mr Mittal told mediapersons on Friday. Bharti will invest a couple of hundred crores and enter into a collaboration with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in a public-private partnership to build Indian football. Mr Mittal also said Bharti would make significant investments towards establishing a world-class football academy and talent development programme.
Indian corporates have been associated with football since quite some time now. Mahindra United, Dempo, Salgaocar and JCT are all clubs owned by corporate houses while Vijaya Mallya’s Kingfisher sponsors the two Kolkata clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Osian’s recently bought a club in Delhi. It also owns the Durand Cup property. But this is the first time that a corporate house is investing so in Indian football largely and nationally.
India had qualified for the football World Cup once, way back in 1950. The country made it to the World Cup in Brazil by default due to the withdrawal of several countries, but could not take up their place in the competition because FIFA insisted that all players at the World Cup finals wear football boots. Despite boasting of some of the oldest football clubs and the third-oldest tournament in the world (Durand Cup), India is ranked 143rd in the world. While Indian cricketers enjoy iconic status, its football players suffer in anonymity.
Unveiling plans to ‘electrify football in the country’, which Mr Mittal described as languishing because of the popularity enjoyed by cricket, he said: “Football is the world’s most popular sport. It unites the World. Our vision is to develop a rich football culture in India. To achieve this vision, we will look at partnering with leading international football clubs and institutions like Manchester United and IMG. We had enough dose of cricket and I think it is the time to start a programme to make India a football-nation. In 10 years we want India to be on the world stage.”
The Bharti Enterprises chairman also signed a memorandum of understanding with Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Information and Broadcasting minister and AIFF chief. The MoU envisages that both parties jointly set up a comprehensive national football development programme, including a worldclass academy