Anadi Barua: State-level Cup competitions, corporate tournaments needed to revive Indian football

Former India player Barua says craze for the sport played locally has diminished in recent years and that the AIFF’s ‘Vision 2047’ doesn’t address all issues.

Published : Jan 30, 2023 16:55 IST , NEW DELHI

Anadi Barua (far left) at a prize distribution ceremony of the Noida Premier Baby League. Baby Leagues are an initiative of FIFA meant for kids in the 6-12 age group.
Anadi Barua (far left) at a prize distribution ceremony of the Noida Premier Baby League. Baby Leagues are an initiative of FIFA meant for kids in the 6-12 age group. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Anadi Barua (far left) at a prize distribution ceremony of the Noida Premier Baby League. Baby Leagues are an initiative of FIFA meant for kids in the 6-12 age group. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

After years of stagnation, football in India is all set for course correction under the new All India Football Federation administration.  The ‘Vision 2047’ document, unveiled earlier this month, appears at first glance to be a detailed and ambitious roadmap, full of plans and targets. It identifies 11 key areas to focus on, and lists out its observations and strategies for improvement. The vision is to make India a top football nation of Asia by 2047.

Yet, some core issues may have been overlooked.

As per the document, the AIFF targets reaching 35 million kids through grassroots programmes by 2026, and aims to liaison with government bodies to support the development of infrastructure at the community level. While it identifies that there aren’t enough “trained personnel involved in grassroots football,” it aims to solve the problem by ensuring 100,000 trained physical education (PE) teachers by 2026, without specifying how that would happen.

Former India player Anadi Barua points out a problem related to the licensing of coaches, and cautions of the possibility that training of personnel may not necessarily yield access to good coaching.

“I don’t know how they will reach out to so many kids,” he tells  Sportstar.

“With regard to the training of PE teachers, there are two major drawbacks: AIFF licenses are not demanded by the authorities for National Institute of Sports (NIS) certified coaches for a job in a government office. But if you conduct football, they don’t want NIS certifications. They say we need an A-license or a B-license or a C-license or a D-license. The government is not assimilating the two. This is turning out to be a big problem.

“Secondly, the schools these trained teachers teach in are not being benefitted, as football is not being conducted in those schools. These teachers are being hired by local clubs and other entities for their expertise. And good players who haven’t got the licenses are left out in the process,” Barua says.

Fans missing

Today, the craze for football played locally is restricted to a few pockets of India, unlike the scenario a few decades ago. The document admits this, and is in favour of reviving the flagship tournaments in each State that have been shelved. They need to be revived, felt Barua.

“Even after so much money being spent, people are not coming to watch matches. People used to throng the stadiums in the olden days. That’s not happening nowadays, except in some pockets of India. Earlier, we used to play the DCM Trophy in Delhi; only local teams would participate but 12 to 15,000 people would come to watch the matches. Today in Delhi there are no good football tournaments to speak of. In the olden days we used to remember names of the players whom we would come to watch.

“There should be a tournament in every State of India. That’s very important. For example, the DCM Cup here and the Rover Cup in Mumbai. There were 32 tournaments at the State level. They’ve all stopped. Every tournament was held for 20-25 days. The players coming to play would earn a bit of pocket money too. Nowadays, tournaments last just for five days. And players get no money. It’s just ‘eyewash’.”

Corporate tournaments

For a document as detailed as ‘Vision 2047’, it is surprising not to find anything written on reviving local corporate tournaments. Barua finds that these tourneys would be needed to develop a ‘culture’ for football. Other benefits accrue, of course.

“Corporate teams such as  Mahindra & Mahindra, and  JCT – if they build their own teams, even age-group teams (U-16, U-18, etc.), it will do Indian football a world of good. Jobs will be got, football standards will go up, players will be famous too. If there are job opportunities, football will improve in India. Nowadays, there are no jobs and no money. Footballers are aimless,” he says.

The document targets a top-eight ranking spot among Asian teams in women’s football, and a top 10 spot among Asian teams in men’s football. The target may be difficult for the women’s team but achievable, believes Barua, who has also served as the head coach of the national women’s team. A sore spot, however, is that there is no mention of the facilitation of exposure tours for the women’s team.

The one thing in the document that Barua appreciates the most is the announcement that the National Centre of Excellence will be operational by 2026. “If the [Sports Authority of India] can take over its operations and run it well, there can’t be a better project for Indian football,” he signs off. 

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