India has the potential

R. RAGU

“Lack of professionalism in South Asia's national football associations and their rigid attitude are the biggest hurdles in development of the game in the region,” says Manilal Fernando, FIFA Development Officer for South and Central Asia. By Ayon Sengupta.

With football development lagging behind in South East Asia, concentrated efforts are being planned and proposed for the region to bring up the level of the game at least to the continental level.

Sri Lankan Manilal Fernando entrusted to deliver on this herculean task knows about the challenges in his way and is looking for a pragmatic approach to deal with them. The AFC Vice-President and FIFA Development Officer for South and Central Asia recently got elected to FIFA's exclusive Executive Committee and he hopes to use his good offices to achieve the desired results.

“Lack of professionalism in South Asia's national football associations and their rigid attitude are the biggest hurdles in development of the game in the region,” Manilal says. “The administrators have to change the way they conduct themselves and bring in transparency and proficiency to deliver results. There is no time left now to sit and make excuses. The world is running way ahead of us and we can't lag behind any longer.”

Urging Indian officials and the government to take the lead role in this crusade as the natural political and economical leader of the region, Manilal says: “India has the potential and also the means to support it. Forbes Asia's top 500 money-list is filled with Indians and if even five of them come and invest in football the game will have no problem in showing a healthy growth rate. It's up to us (AFC) and the local administrators to package football as an attractive investment option.”

Praising AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam, Fernando says due to the Qatari's efforts AFC had increased its annual grant to South Asian countries to $120,000. “India has now been included in AFC AID-27 programme and will receive greater benefits,” he reveals. “Apart from increasing support for the existing Vision Asia and FIFA Goal Project we also plan to launch a grass-root development programme in India. We also want to build artificial turfs in six Indian cities — Kolkata, Goa, Manipur, Mumbai, Bangalore and Shillong — under FIFA's “Win in India, with India” initiative. These facilities will come in handy for the I-League clubs, who are going to be bulwark for the development of the game in the country.”

Commending India's performance at the topflight Asia Cup held in Qatar earlier this year, he emphasises on building up on that success. “The South Asian teams have done reasonably well in international competitions. India participated in the Asia Cup in Qatar and gave a good account of themselves.

“Nobody expected India to score against World Cup nations like Australia and South Korea, but they fought hard, put their best foot forward and scored. They were not intimidated by the enormity of the occasion and that in itself was an achievement,” he says.

“India should now concentrate on bridging down the gap farther over the next two years. To achieve this they have to play international matches regularly outside the country and against the top teams.”