Has India missed a chance to play a FIFA World Cup?

"We cannot allow people like that to come and do certain things and later on face problems because they may actually dilute the sanctity or integrity of the event," said Kushal Das, AIFF General Secretary.

Portuguese football legend Luis Figo will be the president of the Premier Futsal League.   -  Vivek Bendre

Has India lost a golden chance to play in a FIFA World Cup this year? Probably, yes.

The FIFA Futsal World Cup will be played in Colombia in September-October this year and countries like Vietnam and Solomon Islands, one close to India’s football world ranking at 144 and the other miles below at 192, are some of the teams which have qualified for the event.

However, the All India Football Federation has not even woken up to football’s five-a-side indoor version.

Not only that, prompted by world body FIFA, the AIFF is now telling its State associations that Premier Futsal, the eight-team event launched by Portuguese legend Luis Figo in Mumbai recently and which will be played in eight cities – Chennai, Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa – is not an officially recognised event and to stay away from it.

But why was the AIFF sleeping over futsal despite FIFA and the Asian body AFC being very active in it? When was the last time the AIFF conducted a futsal national? What stopped it from holding them?

“No, the AIFF has not conducted a futsal tournament so far but if at all any national tournament in futsal is to be conducted, it will be organised by the AIFF,” Kushal Das, the AIFF General Secretary, told The Sportstar in a telephonic chat.

He made it clear that the AIFF has spoken to its State associations to stay away from Premier Futsal which has the backing of the Futsal Association of India, which is affiliated to Asociacion Mundial de Futsal (AMF) but not to FIFA.

“No, we haven’t yet written but we have already spoken to the States and anyway, even FIFA has clearly mentioned that it is an unofficial tournament. We have told everyone that this event has no sanction or recognition,” said Das. “If State associations participate in unofficial tournaments, they just get disaffiliated.”

Though Premier Futsal has Figo, a former world footballer of the year who was in the race for the FIFA President’s post recently, as its big star, Das said that it would be tough for international football stars to play in the event.

“If the international players want to come here, they have to come through the players’ transfer system. And if it is an unofficial event, the transfer system will not recognise it, so there is no question of foreign players coming and playing here."

“And I don’t think any of the State players will play because then they risk the problem of not being able to participate in the official AIFF events like the I-League, Santosh Trophy etc.”

Still the AMF, which conducts its own international futsal events, and FAI could bring their own set of players for Premier Futsal.

The national body does not see the arrival of Premier Futsal as an opportunity lost. “It is not a lost opportunity, we cannot allow people like that to come and do certain things and later on face problems because they may actually dilute the sanctity or integrity of the event,” he said.

And despite the new threat, the AIFF is not planning to go big on futsal anytime soon. “When the right time comes for futsal, we will introduce it. We are working on a plan, first to develop our football, slowly we will also get into futsal. I can’t give you any timeframe but it is definitely on the anvil.”

Is the AIFF’s long-term agreement with IMG-Reliance (a 15-year Rs 700-crore deal signed in 2010), a hurdle for going big on futsal?

“Let me tell you, the marketing rights of the AIFF for football, futsal and beach soccer are with IMG-Reliance. So, whenever the AIFF introduces a futsal event, it will be through the IMG-Reliance as the marketing partner. And we have just introduced the ISL and it has been a huge success, so we’ll have to do it slowly. We can’t rush into everything.”

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