Reliance Foundation chairperson Nita Ambani expressed a desire to host Indian Super League games in the Middle East and urged major European clubs and brands to invest in the competition and help expand the game to an increasingly diverse market.
“I think it’s (opportunities) for everyone. When we started the Indian Super League for football in 2014, we attracted international football players and we continue to have five of them in each team. We have a thriving sports goods industry, which exports nearly 60 per cent of its produce, so that is another interesting opportunity.
The ISL has received a boost as the Asian Football Confederation helped broker an agreement under which the competition will replace the I-League as the country’s top tier from the start of the 2019-20 season.
Until now, ISL matches have only been played in India, but Ambani believes there is potential to go outside the country in order to accelerate growth.
She said: “I do want to take it (the ISL) abroad, at least play one or two football games in the Middle East, in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and then see how we can expand. We are a young league, just five years into the business, and we’re looking forward to taking Indian football to the world. However, at this moment, my focus is to encourage and promote sports in India.”
The task of exploring these options and increasing the value of the league is set to fall to Martin Bain , formerly of Scottish soccer’s Glasgow Rangers and English lower-league side Sunderland after he was appointed chief executive of the ISL this week.
Under the AFC’s proposed changes to the football structure in India, the ISL champion will now represent India in the AFC Champions League, Asia’s top clubs competition, via the play-off round.
For the development of the players in the league, Ambani is keen for top European clubs to partner with ISL teams through technical and strategic partnerships.
She said: “We have had technical tie-ups so far, but I really hope that I can get some of the great football teams from around the world to come and experience the India opportunity and partner with Indian teams. I’d love to have the English Premier League teams come and invest in India.”
However, she added: “We’re open to all teams. I would like to see many more global partnerships coming into Indian football.”
The 2019—20 ISL season starts this Sunday, and runs until March 8.