Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Linking the Indian Football Community

This past weekend I participated in a 6v6 corporate football tournament which took place at Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi.  I’ll save the readers of this blog from hearing about my dismal performance that included a yellow card for a nasty challenge which should have gotten me kicked out of the tournament and I’ll focus this post on some of the interesting work that tournament organizers, TheFootballLink, are doing to support the growth of football in India.

TheFootballLink is an effort to create a trust based ecosystem, where all the stakeholders in football come together and work towards a common philosophy. With the football community, they research, plan, publicize and execute multiple initiatives in grassroots football. This is exactly what is taken off of their website and, at first glance, this mission statement would make even the most optimistic person working in Indian football a bit skeptical given that no one has been able to really unify the Indian football landscape. 

However, when I met TheFootballLink founder, Chetan Misra, a few weeks before the tournament, I was enrolled by his genuine intention to grow the game in India through grassroots activities. I was also intrigued by his story about how he grew up in India, spent 10 years in the US where he studied the immense success that football had at the grassroots level and then chose to return to India to serve as a catalyst for the growth of Indian football. During that meeting he communicated that he wanted to bring the Delhi football community together through a series of football activities which included a 256 team youth tournament, a corporate tournament and a 5 day youth clinic run by coaches from some of the world’s top clubs.  It all seemed quite ambitious, but I am a true believer that the only way you learn in India is by doing and I applaud anyone who takes that first step. 

I was following the youth tournament which took place prior to the corporate event. They did achieve their target of 256 participating teams which is an incredible number, especially in India. The corporate tournament was well organized and they did a nice thing by keeping the entry fee per team at INR 1000 ($20) and allowing every team to qualify into the knockout round no matter how they placed in the group stage.  Also, it was well organized.  The games started on time, the referees were good and they had managed to turn Thyagaraj Stadium into a quality 6v6 complex through the use of netting which served as walls. The day after the corporate tournament I drove back down to Thyagaraj to watch a youth clinic being run by coaches from AC Milan who had just flown into India that day. While I was there, I was told that a Manchester City coach had been working with kids representing 12 NGOs earlier that day.
All in all I was impressed with the fact that Chetan and his staff at TheFootballLink pulled off what they said they were going to do.  I was able to spend a fair amount of time with Chetan over the course of the past few days and, although exhausted from running a marathon of football programming, he remained continuously upbeat and optimistic about what’s possible if genuine people come together to grow the game without any hidden agendas, trust issues or fear. 

Did TheFootballLink “link” the Delhi football community through this festival? The jury is still out on that. But did they create quality programming for a cross section of Indian football players, coaches and administrators? Yes, definitely. And, more importantly, they showed the immense impact that an individual can have when he has a vision, genuine intention and is willing to put the work into honoring his word to himself and his country. I can’t wait for the day when there are thousands more Chetan Misra’s working together to grow the beautiful game in India…
With TheFootballLink founder Chetan Misra

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