75 years ago to this day, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was formed, with the objective of promoting football in the country.
One of the key ways to promote and help a game progress is by developing infrastructure in the country.
But has this been done in India by the AIFF?
75 years on and the Indian national team has to still go to Dubai, Barcelona or other such locales to get the kind of training that could get them ready to play on the international stage.
Is it not a failure on the part of the federation that no facility within the country can match up to the international standards? With such chronic lack of facilities, how is the nation supposed to produce talented players?
Would it not be better, if the association, instead of hosting aimless international tournaments like the Nehru Cup on sub-standard pitches and spending crores on the same, spent the same amount on building atleast one world class training facility where regular camps for the national side of each age group could be held, thereby saving on the expenses incurred in sending the team abroad for short span training sessions, which usually never lead to improvement in results, as evident from the AFC Challenge Cup performance earlier in the year.
Why Does The Indian team Need To Go Abroad For Quality Training Facilities?...
Eventually it is now that the AIFF has decided to open a Centre of Excellence in Goa, but having been announced in May of this year, it shall take another two years before it is operational. The Goa state government is expected to provide the land and the infrastructure.
The Goan Sports Minister, Ramesh Tawadkar hopes that the centre will prove to be self sufficient in due time with foreign countries visiting the centre to train. It would be nice if it first served the purpose of the Indian team, and then they could look at making profits from it!
Not only does India not have training grounds, the football stadiums themselves are in pathetic condition. Most of the grounds are multi-purpose centres owned by the states, or like the Nehru Stadium in Delhi by Sports Authority of India (SAI), though some like the Cooperage Stadium and Bangalore Football Stadium are owned by the local football associations.
Most of these stadiums are in a poor state, with the pitch in shameful, or if you are a foreigner watching an Indian match for the first time, in laughable conditions. Who can forget the 2014 World Cup qualifier in Delhi against United Arab Emirates, when it looked as if India had invented a new aquatic form of football, such was the pathetic condition of the drainage-less waterlogged pitch.
Such Pitches Host International Matches....
And it wasn’t for the first time that this had happened. Rewind to 2008, the AFC Challenge Cup which India won. The final had to be shifted from Hyderabad to Delhi due to the pathetic condition of the pitch and there were several grumblings amongst the DPR Koreans and Myanmar, who felt that on a standard pitch, which they were used to, they could have played much better and reached the finals instead of India and Tajikistan.
Infact there are hardly any stadiums in India which one could describe as being fit enough to host matches of International caliber. The Salt Lake Stadium was a mess until they got to host the Argentina versus Venezuela game, which led to the venue being spruced up. However the amount of work to be done was evident when in the huge Kolkatan derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, the floodlights completely collapsed leaving the entire stadium engulfed in darkness.
Subsequently, no matches were held under floodlights for the rest of the I-League season, meaning that the teams had to play in extreme heat, affecting their level of performance.
The Fatorda stadium in Goa too is no exception and until the second half of last campaign had no floodlights, leading to the AFC Cup games of Dempo in the season before last being held in Pune.
The Fans Left to Fend For Themselves...
And we haven’t even reached about the facilities, or lack of them for the paying public in these arenas. Basic amenities like clean seats and toilets are generally missing in stadiums, or stands with no covers, which leave fans exposed to natural elements like rain and extreme heat.
The lack of funds can also not be given as a excuse for these failings. Especially related to potholes filled pitches, with several FIFA approved and funded projects lying in limbo. Of the 8 artificial pitches allotted to India by Sepp Blatter in 2007, only the ones at Bangalore, Shillong, Mumbai and Imphal have been laid, almost after 5 years of approval. How many more years shall it take before the rest are laid is anyone’s guess. The stumbling block here has been the 30 year lease on grounds that the federation needs to obtain from local authorities before laying the pitch, which the state associations have failed to get in several places.
Even after huge grant by FIFA for Cooperage stadium, the facility has not yet been completed while training and administrative offices approved under the FIFA Goal project in Karnataka and Sikkim ended up as non-starter, getting stuck in red-tape.
"If it took five years to lay down four artificial pitches, how in another five we intend to host an U-17 World Cup for which new stadiums need to be built."
When in five years, the AIFF has not been able to complete the task of laying down artificial pitches, how in another five it intends to host an U-17 World Cup, for which it might have to build new facilities, only God knows!
We are almost decades behind the top footballing nations of Asia in infrastructure and the gap only seems to be increasing instead of being closed upon. One hopes that at least this area is taken care of before the centenary celebrations kick-off 25 years from now.