Moving beyond its existential crisis, AIFF now looks at 'Vision 2047'

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New Delhi, Jan 29, 2023, IANS

Whenever we talk about Indian football, the foremost question that comes to everyone's mind is when will India play in the World Cup? So, in this regard, the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) earlier this month launched a strategic roadmap 'Vision 2047' with hopes to emerge as a new powerhouse of Asian football.

"By 2036, the centenary of the Federation, India will be among the top seven countries in Asia, and a strong contender to qualify for the World Cup on merit," AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran had claimed.

The 'vision 2047' is ensuring 30 FIFA-standard stadiums and 12 smart stadiums, 50 professional clubs with their own training bases, a five-level league pyramid for senior men, a four-level pyramid for senior women, and reaching 35 million children by 2026 through grassroots programmes with the target to engage 100 million children in the sport.

The strategic plan says there will be the adoption of good governance practices by Member Associations.

And to achieve this objective, the AIFF have to take the vision to the last member of the football community and needed a professional setup not only at the federation but at the state as well as district level for rapid progress towards the ultimate goal.

"At a time when India's role is becoming increasingly prominent on the world stage, we embark on a journey as ambitious as our nation itself. However, this is not a journey for the Federation alone, but one that will be traversed together by every entity that is connected to Indian Football," AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey had earlier said.

Finance plays the biggest role in reaching any objective or goal. The total Annual Budget of the AIFF is around 80Cr annually, which is substantially lower than counterparts in Asia making funding the required competition structures in a vast country challenging.

To generate revenue the AIFF is building an in-house business and marketing vertical to cater to providing commercialisation support to the entire ecosystem. Also, to enhance engagement, it is developing new IPs to market such as -- new competitions across the pyramid in Football, Futsal and Beach Soccer and engage sponsors respectively.

For AIFF to reach its ambitious target, the member associations will have to be empowered in order to build brands, and bring in sponsors.

The success of the roadmap is depending on how consistently the organisation sticks to the long-term plan as maintaining the consistency is the biggest challenge.

Politics and AIFF

It is not just AIFF but in all sports federations, politicians are highly involved.

From 1988 to 2009, Congress party's Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi was president of AIFF. After him his fellow, then Congress and later Nationalist Congress Party's politician Praful Patel became president and ran it from 2009 to 2022 in an authoritarian manner.

He was removed from the position by the Supreme Court of India in May 2022 and a three members' committee was appointed to run AIFF.

In their decision the judge remarked that the present state of this organisation is not in the interest of proper governance. Patel remained president of the AIFF for 16 years, without any tenure limit. He held the position for three terms.

Multiple times, FIFA have accused AIFF of outside influence in it. On August 15, 2022, FIFA suspended the federation for violating its statutes on third-party interference.

The suspension was lifted on August 27, 2022. This organisation is often accused of neglecting women's football.

On September 2, 2022, Indian politician of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Kalyan Chaubey was elected as the President of the AIFF after his 33-1 victory over former India international Bhaichung Bhutia.

After his retirement as footballer, Chaudey had a brief modelling career. He was the CEO of Mohun Bagan academy from 2010 to 2013. He was also a coordinator for the GOALZ Project 2012, developed by Kolkata Police and British Council, to support underprivileged children.

There is a lot of hope from the new admin and the plan shared by AIFF looks achievable.