The fifth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is nearly upon us and, for a change, there will be no opening ceremony to mark the commencement of the competition.
In all the four years in the competition’s history so far, glitzy and gimmicky opening ceremonies dominated by Bollywood have been a permanent fixture.
From Priyanka Chopra in the inaugural edition to Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif last season, the ISL has strangely relied on the presence of Bollywood celebrities to kick-start the competition every year.
These celebrities, for the most part, have barely any connection to the sport they aim to ‘promote’ through the gala opening ceremonies. These have borne a more familiar resemblance to the kind of award shows which are prevalent in the entertainment industry while barely talking about football.
It has been more a vehicle of self promotion for the celebrities involved who have used the platform to promote their latest flicks. All of these shenanigans have been highly perplexing to the audience who look forward to see Indian football take the next step in its evolution. It has left even the playing and coaching staff bewildered at times.
When the league kick-started, these ceremonies were required to catch some eyeballs and attract attention. Now, with the competition taking a serious turn, such glitzy ceremonies are not required. They serve as nothing but a distraction for a serious football fan and in scrapping them altogether, the ISL has made another move in the right direction.
For a league which aspires to take Indian football to the next level and wants to be taken seriously, these non-football centric ceremonies add nothing of value and give the whole affair a rather ‘plastic’ look. To attract a more serious audience, football needs to remain central to the ISL’s message.
Signs are that the organizers are veering towards a more professional approach. The expansion of the league window from two months to nearly five months last year was another welcome and necessary step taken by the league. A short league span made the ISL like more like a paid holiday for over the hill stars rather than a top-flight football league. It also left the teams to deal with a notorious playing schedule which took a toll physically.
With a full five-month schedule and the presence of 10 teams now, the ISL has a more serious outlook. Teams are starting to have more of a presence throughout the year rather than coming into the spotlight only for two months or so. By making these alterations, along with the nixing of the opening ceremony, the ISL is sending out positive signs with the quality of football on show correctly becoming the most important aspect of the league.
The time for gimmicks with short-term gains is now gone for the ISL organizers and the long-term sustainability of the league should now be their primary focus. To that end, encouraging steps have been made and they hopefully will be the start of many more to come.