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PM Modi's Sports Talent Search Portal launch a golden feather in AIFF's cap

12:05 GMT+3 28/08/2017
Overseas Scouting Programme - AIFF
The Sports Ministry's decision to launch a nation wide talent search portal was inspired from AIFF's scouting programme and it could be revolutionary

One of the highlights from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's monthly radio address, Mann Ki Baat, on Sunday was the announcement of a National Talent Search Portal (NTSP), intended to provide talented kids with a platform from where they can get the required exposure. 

The PM also went on to speak about the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup which will be hosted by India in October but the launch of the portal was the point which reverberated around the sporting fraternity.

What the portal aims to do is provide a platform where young, talented kids can upload their videos and bio-data. Then the Sports Ministry will shortlist them and call them up to the nearest Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre for selection trials so that the talented ones are provided funding and training, along with a stipend. 

This commendable move from the Union Ministry was inspired from the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) Overseas Scouting Programme (OSP) which was implemented by the National Director of Scouts, Abhishek Yadav. 

In fact, the OSP, Yadav's brainchild, saw a portal being setup (scouting.the-aiff.com) for talented youngsters of Indian origin residing abroad to upload their videos and possibly get selected to play for the Indian team which is preparing for the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The move bore fruits as coach Luis Norton de Matos was impressed by two such teenagers who registered on the portal and promptly integrated them into the Under-17 team. 

One was defender Namit Deshpande, who was based in the USA, and the other was goalkeeper Sunny Dhaliwal who denounced his Canadian passport in order to play for India. Union Minister for Sports & Youth Affairs, Vijay Goel, Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Director General Injeti Srinivas were present when the OSP was launched and were left impressed by the concept and the success of the program. So much so that, we now have the National Talent Search Portal thrown open in front of us as part of the Khelo India initiative of the Govt. 

"The World Cup is all about involving every Indian, not just in India but across the world. The idea is to provide an opportunity," said Abhishek Yadav to Goal. "If you have the talent, we would give you a chance to play for the national team.

"I am very pleased that the initiative which was approved by the AIFF and helped us get at least two players into the Under-17 World Cup squad has caught the attention of the Sports Ministry. So much so that our honourable Prime Minister has launched the National Talent Search Portal."

It is indeed a revolutionary move for the country's aspiring sportspersons as far as the scouting and youth setup in various sports are concerned. The country produces very few sporting talents despite being one of the most populous countries in the world. The scouting pool is quite small, which limits the options for scouts and coaches to identify and nurture the best talents. 

This is where the NTSP will be a game changer. The interest in various sports in India is increasing at an exponential rate, including football (thanks in part to the popularity of the Indian Super League). With more and more youngsters taking up sports as a viable career option, NTSP offers kids a direct shot at being recognised and cherry-picked by the top coaches in the country. 

In the absence of such a system, the aspiring players would have had to negotiate various levels of the domestic sports structure in order to have a chance of being watched by a national level scout or coach. One would have to go through sub-district teams, districts, zonal and state level teams before getting a chance to feature on the national stage. While there are players who make it through, factors like favouritism and nepotism are present which might see deserving candidates being spurned. 

With the advent of the NTSP, talented youngsters have a direct platform from which to broadcast their talent to the nation and get noticed. This is advantageous not just for the aspiring footballers, but also for the authorities who do not have to reach out to every nook and cranny of the country to spot tomorrow's big stars. They will have the prospects coming to them instead. 

For any sports, grassroots development is a huge priority and rightly so. Spotting the right talent is extremely crucial to grassroots development, as is the infrastructure. NTSP will give talent spotting in India a different dimension, as it will help kids from far-flung locations in the country or small towns and villages, who might not have the resources or facilities to come up through the domestic system, a chance to showcase their talents. 

If we cast our minds back to 2012 when Wim Koevermans was the national coach of India, he and technical director Robert Baan were invited to a conference of FICCI (Federation Of India Chamber Of Commerce & Industry) in Delhi. They were there to speak about the scouting programme to be implemented in the country. One of the attendees, Sanjiv Paul, who was the then Vice-President of Corporate Services at Tata Steel, asked them how will a talented kid reach out to them if they were unable to do so? Was there a phone number or website where a kid could send their CV too?

"We will find them for sure", was the answer given. Years later, the AIFF has a proper answer to the question in the form of the National Talent Search Portal and Abhishek Yadav and his team deserve the accolades for sparking the idea behind it.